With this article, Empire of Soccer begins a regular series on the men and women from the New York/New Jersey area now playing professional soccer.
By JACK BELL
What’s in a name?
In the case of Alex Muyl of the New York Red Bulls it is part family history, part modesty … but mostly mispronunciation.
For the record, Muyl’s father is from France, his mother is American (they met when she was studying for a graduate degree in France). The family’s surname, researched by one of Muyl’s friends, is Flemish.
Muyl is all American, make that all New York, having grown up on the Manhattan’s Lower East Side, where he attended public school. But throughout his life and soccer career there has been the matter of his surname, mispronounced regularly as “Mule.” That changed, at least for a little while, when he played at Georgetown University in Washington.
In fact, it should be pronounced “mw-EEL,” and was for the first time during his time with the Red Bulls before the match on April 15.
“I just think it’s been easier for people to pronounce it ‘Mule’ and it’s always such an easy thing to play with,” he said. “I was never huge about changing it. But my grandma was really the one who was bothered by it, and she’s American. When I was in college she was in the stands and went up to the P.A. announcer and told him how it should be said. She’s animated, I mean it’s not even her last name. From there, they got it right. But you know, as long as I’m scoring goals I’ll take however it’s pronounced.”
Growing up in Alphabet City — in an apartment on East Third Street and Avenue A, where he still lives with his parents — gave Muyl an education before he set foot in school. Over the years, the neighborhood has changed, but it’s still where Muyl returns after training.
His soccer career began with Manhattan Kickers, but as he grew as a player, he outgrew the club and the constrictions of soccer in an urban environment, an island of skyscrapers and few fields.
“It’s always hard to just find places to play and people to play with,” he said. “You really have to leave the city. After the Kickers, my father was driving me all the time all over the place. Then it was the Cosmos before I went to the [U.S. Soccer] residency [in Bradenton, Fla.].”
He returned to New York and signed on to the Red Bulls Academy, which was then based in Newark. That entailed an arduous reverse commute — the subway to the PATH to NJ Transit and finally to Rutgers-Newark — one hour each way. With education important to his parents, Muyl looked at Brown University, the University of Virginia and Wake Forest before settling on Georgetown.
It was all about the city thing for a city kid.
“To me, the experience growing up in the city, the diversity, the public school I went to — I’d never trade that experience,” he said. “It was amazing. I still like to relax at home, have people come over. I do a lot of walking around the neighborhood, hang out, go to museums. The Upright Citizens Brigade, improv, is near where I live. I love that there’s a lot to do.”
Muyl scored his first goal of the season, the eventual game-winner in last week’s 2-0 victory over D.C. United. And though there has been a growing perception of him as a gritty defense-first of player, it is far from the truth in Muyl’s mind.
“I’ve never been the kind of guy that was going to do the dirty work, I was never a blue-collar player,” he said after the game. “I came here and I think that’s something I was able to do. I think it got me on the field maybe before I was even ready sometimes. I think with me it’s just becoming who I am and I can do that part, and I love doing that part, and I love helping the team win. But, I also want to show that I can score goals, help set up goals, and hopefully continue to do that.
A few days before the D.C. match, Muyl said: “To be honest, last year was a little scary in terms of going out and trying things. You’re worried about making mistakes. I got pigeonholed as a defensive player and that’s not me. If you ask anyone who’s known me that’s never been who I was. Now it’s about trying things and expressing myself. At the end of day I’ll do whatever it takes to get on the field. I’ll work hard on defense, but the next part of my game is imposing myself on the offensive side of the game.”
Across this three years and 62 games in college at Georgetown, Muyl scored 12 goals and had 25 assists, leading the Hoyas in that category each year. As a part of the Red Bulls academy U-16 and U-18 teams he was the top scorer in each of two seasons, leading the U-18 team to the U.S. Development Academy national title.
“He knows that his next step is more quality, more goals, more assists, more chances, and I know he has it in him because I watched him in college, and he was a goal scorer and he was a final-play guy, and I’ll be honest, I underestimated the ability he has to run and compete and push on that end,” Red Bulls Coach Jesse Marsch said. “I know it’s only a matter of time, and sometimes with young attacking players they just need to get more into a comfort zone and more confident and then the final plays will start to come, and Alex I’d definitely put in that category, so I expect him to be much more productive from a goal-scoring and assist perspective this year.”
When he has some time to himself, Muyl said he likes to read and write, and is working on a short story about his grandfather and his uncle in France during World War II.
Asked if he would be interested in writing a blog for EoS he said with a smile: “It depends how much you’re paying!”
City kid, for sure!