Stephen McMullen looked good on videotape.
It’s a good thing because it was the only way the Columbia College soccer coaches could gauge his skills. Although the Cougars’ coaches never saw him in person, McMullen became a Cougar.
The hours of videotapes and calls to past coaches indicated he was skilled, but McMullen, of Coatbridge, Scotland, had to prove himself to the Cougars on their field.
“We were pretty confident that we had selected a pretty good player,” coach John Klein said. “But, until they get here, you really don’t know what they are going to have.”
McMullen has become an integral part of the attacking midfield that has helped lead the Cougars (9-2) to seven consecutive wins and five shutouts.
“He’s a pretty quiet guy, real polite and laid back, but he really speaks on the field with his play,” Klein said. “The ball is glued to his foot and in terms of possession in the midfield, Stephen McMullen is not going to lose the ball and he’s going to find for a Cougar to get it to.”
McMullen and the Cougars will try to improve to 5-0 in the American Midwest Conference tonight at 7 at Owens Soccer Stadium against McKendree College.
“We’ve lacked that classic attacking midfielder,” Klein said. “And that was really a piece that we wanted to put into our puzzle.”
A freshman, McMullen is the second-highest scorer on the team with eight goals. He is also fulfilling his responsibilities as a midfielder.
“He has eyes in the back of his head really,” Klein said. “If the open man is making a run down the left wing and he’s facing the right side of the field, he can turn and hit that ball and put it right on the player’s foot.”
After high school, McMullen, 21, spent time playing soccer in Scotland for a club called the Albion Rovers.
McMullen’s path from Scotland to Mid-Missouri began when he joined an agency in Scotland called First Point UK.
“Money back home is not good and there are not as many good teams there,” McMullen said. “Scottish players join an agency hoping you get a scholarship.”
The agency invites coaches to come to Scotland to watch select players. For the coaches who are unable attend, tapes are made of the matches.
“After watching the videotape, Stephen was clearly the premier player, the player we wanted.” Klein said. “So, we pursued him, had him send his transcripts.”
Columbia College competed for McMullen with two schools in South Carolina, one in Nebraska and one in Texas.
In the end, McMullen said that the weather in Missouri was more like home and Columbia College seemed to be the best fit.
The beginning of Cougar training camp, Aug. 15, was the first time McMullen would prove himself to Columbia College.
On Aug. 14 at 4:10 p.m. EST, when the lights went out for many northeastern states and Canada, McMullen was sitting in a Newark, N.J., airport waiting to board a plane to St. Louis.
“His parents called me because they were seeing the blackout on the news and they knew that their child was in transit,” Klein said. “(McMullen’s) mom was in tears when she found out.
“We couldn’t reach him and we couldn’t get through to the St Louis airport.”
Teammates, who intended to pick up McMullen in St. Louis, thought McMullen’s flight had been canceled.
When Klein called Jared Cross, a Cougar defender, to tell him he was unsure of when to expect McMullen, he was surprised when Cross put McMullen on the phone. His flight was one of the last out of Newark that day. From St. Louis, He had taken a shuttle to Columbia.
“I thought he was going to be stuck in Newark for three days,” Klein said. “He didn’t miss a day of training.”
Klein said McMullen was one of two players who stood out that first day at camp.
“He adds a whole new dimension the way he runs the midfield,” forward Ben Boehner said. “He switches the ball, goes to the open person no matter what.”
McMullen said there are many differences between Missouri and Scotland.
“Everything, really,” he said. “The land is more flat. You drive on the wrong side of the road. There’s a six-hour difference. I’m eating when I should be sleeping and sleeping when I should be eating.”
Having an ocean between him and his family also was part of the transition.
“When I first got here I was homesick, but everyone here has been great to me so far,” McMullen said. “I’m OK now.”
McMullen communicates almost daily with his parents through e-mail.
“You know he came from a good family, a family that cares,” Klein said. “One that was ready for him to take the next step, but maybe not fully realizing that the next step was going to be on the other side of the world.”
Although McMullen comes from halfway around the world, his teammates say he is not any different.
“He’s a good guy,” Boehner said. “He’s just like anyone else on the team but he has a Scottish accent.”
In Klein’s four seasons as coach, McMullen is the third player he has signed without seeing in person first. Ivan Radenkovic, a freshman, and Vladimir Roganovic, a sophomore, both from Belgrade, Serbia and Montenegro, are the others.