When Jeff Cassar became head coach of Real Salt Lake everyone expected that the Claret-and-Cobalt would tactically remain the same with the diamond midfield. The 26-year-old Luke Mulholland, however, represents a byproduct of change on the Wasatch Front.
Coming out of a relatively unknown background in the lower divisions of American soccer, Mulholland is the first of Cassar's men - players specifically signed under Jeff Cassar's regime. Taking the helm at RSL, Cassar made an effort to go out and acquire certain players with "Cassar Flair," and Luke is the first of these players. As such, Mulholland is expected to represent the future of the Claret-and-Cobalt under Cassar and so far he has delivered.
The Preston, England native began his youth career in England before he was recruited by a small, private university in North Carolina. While attending Wingate University, Mulholland was named First Team All-American in the NCAA II, played with USL Premier Development League side Reading United between 2009 and 2010, and coached the U-16 of California based Waxhaw United SC. He went on to make 30 appearances with Reading and scored eight goals.
After gaining experience in college, Mulholland was offered a contract from third-tier USL Pro club Wilmington Hammerheads. Joining the side in April 2011, he went on to make his first professional debut and score his first professional goal during the same match. Luke would also go on to face the Claret-and-Cobalt in the U.S. Open Cup, where he played the entire 90 minutes in Wilmington's 2-0 loss. After an outstanding rookie season, Mulholland was voted USL Pro Rookie of the Year and made the league's Team of the Year.
After the end of the USL Pro season, Mulholland made the jump to the second division signing with NSC Minnesota Stars in September 2011. A series of solid performances help his club reach and win the NASL cup final, where Luke scored to lift his team to victory over the Fort Lauderdale Strikers. The impressive 2011 season earned Mulholland trials with New England Revolution and Walsall of England's League One, but was ultimately unsuccessful.
In January 2012, the Tampa Bay Rowdies announced that they had acquired the services of Mulholland. Mulholland would go on to be enormously successful with Tampa Bay playing alongside RSL backup goalkeeper Jeff Attinella. In his first year with the Rowdies, NASL Team of the Year player Luke scored six goals and added six assists for another championship winning team. Scoring the match-winning goal in the NASL playoff semi-finals, he also went on to score the first penalty shot in their shootout victory over his previous side Minnesota Stars.
The 26-year-old midfielder registered yet another standout season in 2013 with the Tampa Bay Rowdies. Luke made history by being the first player to be named to the NASL Best XI for two-consecutive seasons, propelled by 11 goals and seven assists.
Following in his former teammate's footsteps, Luke Mulholland signed with the Claret-and-Cobalt on January 21, 2014. Mulholland produced yet another year of solid performances with RSL scoring six goals and tallying seven assists in nearly 2000 minutes. For most of the season, Luke also secured a starting position in Cassar's diamond midfield. Displacing Gil for most the year showed how effective Mulholland can be in a diamond formation.
Mulholland has shown his ability to be a good all-around player through his experience with the Claret-and-Cobalt. Not only has he demonstrated his ability on the ball but off the ball as well. Both possessing the ball and making the right runs into the box by Luke has given RSL a weapon at both ends of the pitch.
Luke's style of play is reminiscent of a young Ned Grabavoy. They both have a workhorse attitude and are willing to take a tactical foul to help the team - evident in all four yellow cards and one red card Luke received during the 2014 campaign. Luke, like Grabavoy, seemingly bought into the club slogan and has continued to find success.
With Grabavoy taken in the expansion draft by former RSL man Jason Kreis, Real Salt Lake will lean on Luke Mulholland's talent and attitude to fill Nedinho's role at the club.
As RSL looks to field an ever-younger team, Luke has already hit the ground running. Being one of Cassar's first signings since taking over the club, he looks to be a player that Real Salt Lake can build around. Expect Luke Mulholland to increase in value for the Claret-and-Cobalt by taking on a larger club role in 2015.
Editor's note: This is part of a series of player profiles recapping the 2014 season and previewing the 2015 season. Player ratings were compiled via a vote by RSL Soapbox writers. Statistics are via mlssoccer.com.