Luke Mulholland is a midfielder turned forward for the NSC Minnesota Stars. Last weekend he scored a goal, the only goal and game winner in a 1-0 win in St. Petersburg, Florida. The goal meant the Minnesota Stars, his new team of 5 weeks, would see two more games this season. Mulholland’s goal defeated FC Tampa Bay in a NASL single elimination quarterfinal game meaning Minnesota now moves on to a home and away semifinal series against Carolina. The goal for Mulholland is just one more notch in the young Englishman’s belt as it highlights a very remarkable year for the 23-year-old.
Mulholland, a Preston, England native, came to the United States in 2007 to play for Wingate University, a small Division II school out of Wingate, North Carolina. But it wasn’t Mulholland’s first time in the States. He made his first trip from England to the U.S. when his English college team, Preston College Academy, made visits to the East Coast to play in some tournaments. His play drew the interest of a number of schools including a few D1 programs. But the offer from Division II Wingate College in North Carolina was the best. “I really enjoyed my time in America and I figured this was a great opportunity to get a degree and play football at the same time,” said Mulholland.
While at Wingate, Mulholland did well but didn’t necessarily chew up the league. Still he was honored by the Southern Atlantic Conference as a four-year All-SAC performer. His 100 points is the 13th highest total in SAC history. Mulholland’s Wingate career totals include 37 goals and 26 assists. During his time with the Bulldogs they recorded a 56-21-4 overall record. Wingate qualified for the NCAA Division II playoffs three times (2007, 2009 and 2010); and won the SAC regular season championship in 2010. He was honored last fall by being named to the 2010 Daktronics NCAA Division II men’s soccer honorable mention All-America team. It was the third time he had been named an All-American.
“Luke’s success last year made him a target in 2010,” said Wingate head coach Gary Hamill. “A very large part of our success must be attributed to Luke. He was our engine.”
For Mulholland, the last 7 months has been a whirlwind. After graduating from college he soon signed a contract to play for the Wilmington Hammerheads of USL PRO. He not only competed well with Wilmington but was nominated and selected for post season honors. While with the Hammerheads he played 23 games and had 23 points, tied for 2nd most in USL PRO. He scored 9 goals which tied him for third highest in the league. His 5 assists were also 5th highest.
Mulholland was also 6th highest in USL PRO for another statistic. Fouls. He had 23 on the year. Asked about those fouls and his relatively small size, he laughs. “Yeah, my coach with the Hammerheads was giving me shtick about that at the end of the season as well. He was telling me that I was top of the league in goals, assists and fouls – I am a small guy. It’s a physical game. I definitely put myself about but I also get shown about as well. I’ve broken my hand twice this season between playing and training. It’s physical in America but I think it’s just a physical back home in England.”
Mulholland’s solid rookie year helped the Wilmington Hammerheads to a 24 win, 14 loss and 7 tie season. Their record gave them a 2nd place finish in the American Division as well as 2nd overall in USL PRO with 45 points, just 6 points off the mark from league leaders Orlando City.
The rookie’s outstanding season helped him to win postseason honors from the USL. He was named to the 2011 USL PRO All-League First Team, was nominated as one of three finalists for USL PRO Most Valuable Player and was voted USL PRO Rookie of the Year.
Within a few weeks after his USL season was over and his contract expired, he found himself on his way to play for Minnesota in the NASL second Division. Since signing with the Stars in early September, Mulholland has played in every game.
Asked about the pressure on him to move from college to the pros he says he never really felt it. He explains that he played with several players in his two summers with the Reading United PDL team that are now playing in MLS. So he felt confident going into Wilmington’s season that he could compete.
“I played with and against a lot of players there that played D1 and a few of those players are in the MLS right now. I was a key player at Reading United, so I was confident that I could play at the highest level in America as well. So when I signed with Wilmington, there wasn’t really much pressure on me going into the season. I felt like I should be able to handle myself in the USL league. Also, the coach from Wilmington, David Irving, he’s from England. So he made me feel comfortable and had a lot of confidence in me as well.”
The attacking midfielder says he still is not feeling the pressure playing for the Stars even though he’s jumped right into the starting lineup a day after arriving in the Twin Cities. Since September 6, Mulholland has made 5 appearances with five starts. He has played 401 minutes with one assist and one goal, last Saturday’s game winner.
“I got here on a Monday and was thrown into the game on a Tuesday evening against Tampa which was my first game,” says Mulholland. “I didn’t feel any pressure on me whatsoever. Coach (Lagos) didn’t put any pressure on me. He just told me to go out there and do what I’ve been doing all season for Wilmington. He didn’t put pressure on me to score or get into the stats boards. He just told me play for Minnesota and be the best I can whilst I’m here.”
The goals are not coming to Mulholland like they did in USL PRO, but he explains there are several reasons for that. “I’m definitely not scoring as many goals as I was in Wilmington. I played at Wilmington as a center midfielder,” said Mulholland. “I’ve come in here to try to help the offense. Manny has me playing as a withdrawn forward. When we lose the ball he wants me to drop back and try to help the defensive midfielders and then become an outlet when we win the ball back. So it’s definitely a lot of running. Offensively I’m just trying to help Brian (Cvilikas) when the long balls come to him. I’ll look back to him or to the wings to try to distribute the ball back out.”
“I feel like I’m playing well here in Minnesota,” continued Mulholland. I feel like the players in the NASL are just a little bit older and more established. They’re more composed on the ball whereas with USL there are a lot more players just out of college. Many have only 1 or 2 years of experience. They are all flying around a hundred miles an hour where there are more composed players in the NASL. I’ve only seen three opponents but the players are just more patient, knowing when to attack and when to keep the ball.”
Mulholland says his dreams are just starting when it comes to soccer in the US and he would like to stay in the States but play at the highest level he can. “I just feel confident in the NASL as well and I just want to take advantage of the opportunity I’ve got in front of me. I feel like I’ve done myself justice in the USL league and I feel comfortable playing the NASL so there’s nothing stopping me from stepping up to MLS once I’m done with the playoffs in Minnesota. I have to sit down with my agent but I’d like to see if any teams would have an interest in taking a look at me after the season is over. If that doesn’t work out I’ll have to step away and see what my options are but I definitely see myself playing in America next season whether that’s in the USL, the NASL or the MLS. I’ll just be happy to be playing.”
More than likely, Mulholland will feature again Saturday evening in Minnesota’s first leg of a home and away series with Carolina. The game at the NSC Stadium will kick off at 7:30 CST.