Young soccer players fantasize about playing at the professional level and potentially on a national team. Richard Mulrooney, the men’s soccer head coach at the University of Memphis, has achieved both of those goals.
Mulrooney, a Memphis native, played for four different Major League Soccer teams during 12 seasons. He won Comeback Player of the Year, appeared in two all-star games and won three MLS Cups in the process.
Mulrooney graduated from Christian Brothers High School and signed to play at Creighton College. He played all four years at Creighton as a central midfielder, tallying 51 assists, and was an All-American his senior year.
“I was fortunate enough that when I was a freshman in college, the MLS was started,” Mulrooney said. “The opening MLS season gave me the goal: If I play well in college, I could play professionally in the United States.”
Three years after the MLS’s inaugural season, Mulrooney was drafted third overall by the San Jose Clash, now the Earthquakes, during the 1999 MLS College Draft. He was a finalist for Rookie of the Year and the only rookie to play in all 32 matches.
Mulrooney realized his first career goal midseason during his rookie campaign. He scored an outside-the-box shot that struck the top left corner of the goal.
“I got the elephant off my back, and now I can move forward,” Mulrooney said. “I took the ball down, hit it well and beat Zach Thorton (former U.S. Men’s National Team goalkeeper).”
That was the goal that catapulted his career. Two years later, Bruce Arena, the USMNT head coach then, saw Mulrooney’s success and invited him to the national team camp. Mulrooney made the team and totaled 14 appearances for the U.S.
In 2001, Mulrooney won his first MLS Cup. His assist to Landon Donovan in the MLS Cup final secured San Jose their first title in club history.
“All of the MLS Cups that I have won are my babies, but the first one was the most special,” Mulrooney said.
Two years later, Mulrooney produced a game-winning goal in the MLS Cup for the Earthquakes, securing his second MLS Cup in three years. Mulrooney moved to FC Dallas in 2005, before he tore his ACL that June. For the first time in his professional career, his playing future was in doubt.
“Tearing my ACL was tough mentally and physically,” Mulrooney said. “The hardest part was knowing that other players were traveling and playing while I was rehabbing my knee at home.”
The 2006 MLS season proved Mulrooney’s durability. He was able to overcome the ACL tear, tallying nine assists and one goal over the course of 25 games for Dallas. He received the MLS Comeback Player of the Year Award and was selected for the 2006 all-star game.
Houston Dynamo acquired Mulrooney in 2007. He won his final MLS cup at Houston and concluded his career with the team in 2010.
Mulrooney said his experience at the professional level has helped him become the coach he is today. In 2013, he was named the U of M assistant men’s soccer coach. He assumed the role of head coach in 2014 and led the Tigers to the conference playoffs in 2015 and 2016.
“I absorbed and learned everything my MLS coaches did on and off the field especially the drills in practice,” Mulrooney said. “I apply what I have learned from my MLS coaches to coaching at Memphis.”
The decorated coach became the first player to be inducted into the Tennessee State Soccer Hall of Fame in February.
The U of M men’s soccer team is currently in the spring season. Mulrooney will start his fifth season as head coach when regular season play commences this fall.
Current Memphis Tigers men’s soccer coach Richard Mulrooney in action for the San Jose Earthquakes in the 2003 MLS Cup Final, he scored a goal in the Earthquakes’ triumph.
Richard Mulrooney leads his team in drills. The former Creighton star was named head coach of the Memphis men's soccer team in 2014.