Back when Taylor Mueller signed with Tacoma Defiance he did so for a few reasons — he wanted to play for his hometown organization, he wanted to live closer to his family, and he wanted to see Tahoma/Mt. Rainier regularly again. While playing for the Charleston Battery kept him close to the water, there was no way to replace his affinity for the mountains.
Mueller accomplished those goals and a couple others during his two-year stint with Tacoma. Now, he sets new goals, retiring from playing the game professionally. Living in the southeast corner of King County he’s able to see that mountain every clear day, and on not clear ones he need merely look in a mirror.
Taylor leaves the USL with a legacy as potent as any. An all-league team appearance, a league title, seven playoff appearances, a league record 74 shutouts for an outfield player (he wore 74 as his Tacoma number in honor of the Sounders’ birth year), 241 regular season appearances, 14 Open Cup appearances, 11 playoff games, and an immense 20,077 minutes of USL play.
Centerbacks rarely get the glory. Mueller didn’t really expect that. He deserves it, though. Learning a 3-man backline at the age of 32, the UW grad turned into a ball-carrying CB capable of line-breaking passes.
Here’s a smattering of highlights that illustrate Mueller’s 2021 impact. He’s potent as a presence in the box and can organize a defense, but he’s equally adept at carrying the ball into the opposing half or sparking play with progressive passing. Class act, class player. pic.twitter.com/gmdz7e1RFC— john morrissey (@USLTactics) November 9, 2021
The Tom Brewitt and Taylor Mueller ‘pairing’ gave head coach Wade Webber a stable defense to build off. They were the regular starters at center and right centerback for the season.
“I think the manager is big on it. He [Webber] loves the defensive side of the game. With my mentality and with a veteran like Taylor next to me we complement each other well,” Brewitt said. “That gives us a structure to build from.”
This was Tacoma Defiance’s best defensive season. Defiance were at their best when Taylor was on the pitch. He led the team in G+ (goals added).
He wasn’t just a league legend. Taylor Mueller was brought to Tacoma to be a leader.
“The mentorship and guidance he provided to our young players has been incredible, bestowing a level of professionalism and responsibility unique to a veteran of his caliber,” said Seattle Sounders FC Director of Player Development Henry Brauner in the press release announcing Mueller’s retirement. “We were fortunate to have Taylor the person around our young players, and also just as fortunate to have Taylor the player on our team.”
As Mueller was the elder statesman on the team, his most frequent left centerback partner in 2021 was one of the youngest. Tacoma-born and raised and only 18 years old, Eric Kinzner leaned on Mueller for lessons about the game of soccer and the life of a professional.
“He teaches us how to be professionals when we’re coming into the team,” Kinzner told Sounder at Heart after practice this year, “And then when we are in the team it’s about maintaining the standards. Taylor? He’s made a career of this, so he reminds you that it’s not about one moment of effort, but consistency. He sets the tone for the team.”
At 32 when the season started, Mueller was closest in age to Randy Mendoza (25) and Brewitt (24). Defiance are notably young, often averaging just 21 years of age, despite Mueller and Brewitt leading the club in minutes. The youth of Kinzner, Cody Baker and Ethan Dobbelaere on the backline, and the rest throughout the team means that the Taylor Mueller legacy will continue in the Sounders organization.
“In his two years with the club, he consistently demonstrated how a professional trains hard every day and is committed to being a 24/7 athlete,” Defiance head coach Wade Webber said of Mueller. “His impact will be felt for years to come as our youngest players carry on his legacy of professionalism, commitment and fearlessness. It was an honor to work with him.”
Sports are their most meaningful when the create authentic connections between the athletes and their communities. Taylor Mueller did that in Charleston, his adopted home. Battery fans still follow his career. His old teammates are coaches around the league. Taylor’s connections to his Defiance teammates are iron solid. He’s their captain and their friend.
Now, he’ll move onto those next steps — walking his dogs, raising a kid, renovating a home with his wife, whatever. Taylor’s soccer-player book may be closing, that ending written with Tacoma Defiance’s best year of soccer and a captain’s armband now looking for a new arm.
There are more books to be written about Taylor Mueller. And more players that will need to read that first one to study professionalism, leadership, and how to reinvent your game when you are supposedly over the hill (for soccer).
“I cannot say enough about how grateful I am to close my career out with the experiences I have had. The support I have received over the last 10 years is overwhelming and extremely humbling,” said Mueller. “Thank you to Charleston for giving me the opportunity to make an impact not just on the field but off it as well. No matter what I will always think of the Holy City as a second home. Thank you to the fans, the Regiment and the club for everything. To the Sounders family, thank you for welcoming me back home with open arms. It’s been a privilege and honor to be a part of such a legendary and successful organization. I’m really looking forward to what’s in store for the future of the club. To my family, I love you all. Thank you for all the support and time you have dedicated over the years to being present, it means the world to me. Thank you again to all who I have come across in my career, it’s made an impact that will last a lifetime.”
Thank you Taylor Mueller. You are Defiantly Tacoma, once and always a Sounder.