People say patience is a virtue. When trying to talk to Timi Mulgrew after a home match of Mason men’s soccer team, however, patience is nothing short of a requirement. An absolute favorite of the fans, Mulgrew is surrounded by people of all ages who take turns to embrace him and congratulate him on a win or a goal, often leading to his being the last team member to return to the locker room.
He gives everyone the proper attention and greets everyone with the same energetic smile that would never suggest that he had just played near 90 minutes of competitive soccer had it not been for the sweat-drenched No. 11 jersey on his back. Many of these are the people closest to the senior, the ones who have been next to him through triumphs and setbacks, through tee-ball, conference championships and much, much more.
“He’s a wonderful guy,” said Head Coach Greg Andrulis about his team’s captain. “He’s a super human being. He’s naturally liked and endeared by his teammates because of his positive outlook on everything. He was always a quiet leader for us up to this year when he became the captain, but he’s already led by example, his hard work.”
This same hard work has helped Mulgrew win almost anything on the collegiate level of the game. 67 games and 22 goals after becoming then-newly appointed assistant coach John O’Hara’s first recruit, Mulgrew can – but never would, according to coach Andrulis – brag about making the Atlantic 10 All-Tournament team for his contribution to the Patriots winning the title in their debut season, participating and registering a win in the NCAA tournament, as well as numerous weekly honors. This would never satisfy the 22-year-old, however, and that is one of the key traits that helped him succeed at Mason.
“He was just really tenacious and a go-getter,“ O’Hara said, who has known Mulgrew from the time he played at the U-14 level for Great Falls Soccer Club. “He loves the game obviously as a soccer junkie and just wanted to always get better, always work harder. He just had this appetite for soccer that you don’t see in other guys.”
This “appetite” explains not only the high goals that Mulgrew sets for himself but also his tendency to achieve them, one being to improve on his career-high eight goals from his sophomore year by having nine already this year (as of Oct. 16).
“[The] team comes first for me so each of the goals I have personally evolves bettering the squad and the team,” Mulgrew said. “We want to be undefeated at home, which is one of the things we’ve said before. We want to be ranked, we want to get into the NCAA tournament again and we want to establish this program as a program that continuously gets into the tournament – not just as a fluke – which I believe we can do.”
After graduation, Mulgrew plans to “reach for the stars” as his parents have told him since a young age and try to make it at the professional level, more specifically in England. In fact, O’Hara compares the Sterling, Va. native to Manchester United legend Ryan Giggs and Bayern Munich star winger Arjen Robben, both of whom have left their mark on English soccer in the past.
Although Mulgrew is well aware that his impressive performances and outstanding numbers depend heavily on the other 22 members on Mason’s roster and is grateful for all his teammates, but he also realizes that he would not be where he is if it was not for his “teammates” back home.
“[My parents] have told me, ‘If you love the game, we’ll let you play,’” Mulgrew recalled. “’And if you get burned out, we’ll support that, too.’ They’ve never really forced anything on me and I think that is one of the reasons why I have flourished. I have always been able to lean on them when things have been tough and that played a crucial role in how far I have come, definitely.”
In addition to wearing Mason’s colors for more than three years, the Patriots’ captain has 14 years of club soccer behind his back. While playing soccer for most of his life, he worked with people who became something of a second family to him and who helped him take important decisions in his life.
“I’ve been very blessed with the coaches I’ve had,” Mulgrew said. “All the coaches I grew up with at my club level not only stay in touch with me but they’ve also been influential in my decision to come to Mason. They’ve all played here, almost all of them are in the Hall of Fame here. Mark Ryan, John O’Hara, Eddie Beach, all of these guys definitely played a huge role in developing me not just as a player but as a character as well.”
At Mason, Mulgrew has the opportunity to play for a coach who was successful and recognized at the professional level of the game. Apart from making him a better player and a well-rounded person, the close relationship that he has with Andrulis could in the future prove to be a doorway toward his own professional career.
“Greg has just been top class,” Mulgrew said. “You can’t really ask for a better environment than to play at the college level for someone who has won in the MLS. You can ask him for stories about players and he would talk about Brian McBride [former Fulham F.C. and United States international player] and you’re like, ‘Wow, I know who these people are.’”
“Timi is a communications person,” Andrulis said, who in 2002 won the U.S. Open Cup champion with the Columbus Crew and the league’s Coach of the Year award a season later. “He comes in all the time [and] we talk. He has ambitions and part of our job is to help these guys reach their goals and dreams. If a player has a need or a want and we can help them achieve that or help them take the steps to that, then we take that part of it very seriously.”
Having worked with dozens of collegiate players who have had the ambitions to play professionally – some more realistic than others – Andrulis actually believes that Mulgrew is one of those who have a realistic chance, provided that a little bit of luck comes his way.
“He has a lot of attributes [that are desirable] to be a pro,” Andrulis said about his star player. “His athleticism, his individual technique, he’s left-footed, [and] the fact that he can score goals. It will be dependent on getting a team at the next level to like him. He has to stay healthy, he has to have a good year, the team has to have a good year, and then hopefully he gets invited to a couple of combines and he can show his stuff.”
He added: “Whether in the U.S. or internationally, we can help open some doors for Timi. We have guys all over the world from our program. I am very confident that he will be one of the guys who wear a jersey for somebody else.”
Whether Mulgrew continues his coach’s legacy in the MLS or he realizes his childhood dream to play professionally in England – why not for Manchester United, his favorite team – only time will show. If that is to happen one day, however, one thing is sure – the George Mason Stadium will miss his beautiful goals, hard work and give-it-your-all mentality on the field, even all the post-game noise associated with Mulgrew on his way to help the Patriots become one of the most respected teams in the nation.