The many sides of Brian Mullan

Quiet and unassuming off the field; fiery and competitive on it

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Photo Credit: 
Wilf Thorne/Houston Dynamo

This article appeared in the May 1, 2010 issue of the Houston Dynamo Gameday Magazine.

Brian Mullan doesn’t do interviews.

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Photo Credit: 
Jonathan Kaplan / HoustonDynamo.com
He doesn’t take curtain calls or play to the crowd. He doesn’t pose for magazine covers or coif his hair or worry about his five o’clock shadow. He doesn’t even like sports.

Most importantly to his teammates, he doesn’t take a play off.

“He’s the kind of teammate I want,” says midfielder Richard Mulrooney, now in his eighth season playing with Mullan, including two in college. “He doesn’t take days off. He’s going 100 percent, whether it’s small-sided stuff, a crossing-and-finishing exercise, or a game. I’d take that any day of the week over more tactical players that take days off.”

Over the years, Mullan’s work ethic and tenacity have stood out even on a team built on competitive, hard-working players.

“Off the field, he’s the least competitive human being I’ve ever met,” Dynamo goalkeeper Pat Onstad says. “On the field, he’s probably the most competitive player in the league. … That boosts everybody on the field. Certainly on those days when we’re not playing well, you look to Brian and you see him working his backside off, and I think that makes all the difference in the world.”

Mullan has been a mainstay on the right side of the team’s midfield – although he has made cameos at right back and at forward in a pinch – since arriving in San Jose from the Los Angeles Galaxy prior to the 2003 season. He is the Dynamo’s all-time leader in games and ranks second in starts and minutes, trailing only Onstad. He is a virtually ubiquitous presence in the starting lineup and a virtually invisible presence in the media.

“That goes back to his rookie season,” says Mullan’s ‘translator,’ veteran defender Craig Waibel. “He finished a television interview with the word, ‘Maybe’ with a question mark after it when they asked him about his performance. I forget what kind of rambling and mumbling went on before it, but the actual answer ended with ‘Maybe?’ and since then he’s been a little intimidated of reporters.”

It seems that all Mullan needs to be happy is wife Kersten, sons Brady and Keagan, a lunch date with one of his long-time teammates, and a chance to destroy some unsuspecting left back with an ankle-breaking cut at least once per week.

“There’s a side of him that’s fiery, because he hates to lose and he’s so competitive,” Mulrooney says. “But then off the field, he’s visiting the hospital, caring for his two kids, doing things for his family – he just likes to separate it more than some people. If he had a choice of watching Sesame Street with his kids or the Champions League final, he’s picking Sesame Street.”

He has been an essential part of the Earthquakes/Dynamo’s stability, forming lasting partnerships with Onstad, Wade Barrett, Brian Ching, and Eddie Robinson (since 2003), Mulrooney (the two played together at Creighton University), and, of course, Waibel (they are in their 10th consecutive season as teammates).

“I can kind of blindly pass the ball wherever I think he’s going to be, and nine times out of 10, he’s there,” Waibel says of the duo’s partnership on the right side of the field. “Brian’s made it really easy to be a right back, because he possesses so much ability going forward and attacking outside backs and outside midfielders that it frees up the outside back.”

Mullan’s speed, work rate, and tenacity are often cited as defining characteristics on the field, where he is repeatedly described as an “honest” player by head coach Dominic Kinnear and praised for his consistency and endurance. He has played at least 1,900 MLS minutes in each of the last seven years and has played at least 37 games in all competitions for the Dynamo every year since their arrival.

Rarely flashy, Mullan has been known to twist defenders with a patented inside-out move that usually takes him toward the end line before delivering a cross. He has also delivered some memorable goals, including a sliding volley that clinched the 2006 Western Conference final against Colorado – still cited by Kinnear, Barrett, and others as one of their favorite moments in team history – a top-corner finish at Pachuca in 2007, and a ridiculous
fake to get Nick Rimando out of position before slotting home in 2008.

Perhaps the moments that speak the most to his competitiveness, however, came in MLS Cup triumphs in 2003 and 2006. When Chicago in 2003 and New England in 2006 scored crucial goals, Mullan was part of his team’s immediate response, setting up Mulrooney in ’03 and Brian Ching in ’06 for crucial tallies that led to victory. If any player epitomizes the group’s collective never-say die resolve, it is probably Mullan.

“That doesn’t surprise any of us, because he does it in practice as well,” Mulrooney said. “He gets angry about being scored upon. It’s like someone stuck him in the side with a knife – it upsets him that much. So if he can change it as quick as possible, that’s what he wants to do.”

So it is fitting that as he celebrated his 32nd birthday (April 23) and became the first field player to reach 150 career starts for the Dynamo (last Saturday), he remains an integral part of Houston’s locker room, contributing with well-timed one liners and sarcastic wit.

“He’s a rock-thrower; a bit of a fence-sitter,” Waibel said. “He’ll sit on top of the fence and wait to see which side he’s going to get more laughs on, and then he’ll throw rocks from that side of the fence, so he’s entertaining.”

Entertaining to joke with off the field and to watch play on it. Just don’t expect him to answer questions with a microphone in his face. That’s not Brian Mullan. And his teammates wouldn’t have it any other way.

“What I appreciate about him is he’s never changed – from the time we came into the league, when we barely used the internet and only a few guys had cell phones,” Mulrooney said. “He is fully focused on his job at hand. When he steps on the field, he’s ready. He’s not worrying about if his neon blue shoes came in. I wouldn’t trade him for any other right midfielder in the league, because he doesn’t draw attention to himself except by his play, and that’s the way the game should be played.”