New York Cosmos defender Jimmy Mulligan (28) plays the ball...

New York Cosmos defender Jimmy Mulligan (28) plays the ball in front of FC Edmonton midfielder Ben Fisk (9) during the first half of a game at Hofstra University's James M. Shuart Stadium on Saturday, Sep 17, 2016. Credit: Brad Penner

After a loan spell that changed his career, Jimmy Mulligan is home again.

The Cosmos defender and Medford product had spent almost the entirety of his soccer career locally, before beginning last season on loan with the Swope Park Rangers in Kansas City. He returned to his parent club last July and has been a regular starter since.

“Through youth, college and professionally I had been in New York and I hadn’t really left,” said Mulligan, who played for Patchogue-Medford in high school and collegiately for St. John’s from 2009 to 2013. During his college years, he also played for the Long Island Rough Riders of the Premier Development League, prior to making his professional debut for the Cosmos in July 2014.

Mulligan only appeared in six matches for the Cosmos between the 2014 and 2015 seasons, and after spending the preseason with the club in 2016, he was loaned out to Swope Park of the United Soccer League (the USL, like the North American Soccer League the Cosmos play in, is considered a Division II league by the U.S. Soccer Federation).

“(Swope Park coach) Marc Dos Santos knew me, and he asked me to come on loan there, to get more experience and in more games,” Mulligan said. “Honestly, it was the best career move I could have made. It helped me grow, not only as a player but as a person. This was my first time leaving my family and going somewhere completely different and new. It was an amazing move for me and I’m very happy I did it.”

Mulligan appeared in 17 matches and made 16 starts for Swope Park, before returning to the Cosmos in July. He started 12 matches and made an additional two appearances as a substitute in 2016. This season, he came off the bench in the Cosmos’ first two games before starting in each of the next 12, logging a full 90 minutes in all but one of them. The Cosmos finished the NASL spring season in a tie for third place and will begin the fall season on July 29.

While Mulligan is now a regular contributor for the club, he said just being a part of it in the first place was special. “When I signed back in 2014, it was a dream come true,” he said. “My parents came to all my college games. My sister has two small boys who love watching the Cosmos play. For them to be able to come to my professional games, it’s absolutely amazing.”

His experience playing soccer locally at all levels leaves Mulligan uniquely qualified to assess the growth of the sport in the area.

“It’s gotten way bigger from when I was a youth player,” he said. “It’s completely transformed. We have all these academies now that are linked to professional teams for these kids to get really good development from great coaches.” Mulligan said he became the player he is thanks to his work with accomplished youth coach Dan Kravitsky, so more young players having access to high-level training is a positive development.

Looking ahead to the fall season, Mulligan said the Cosmos will need to improve their finishing and “defend better, especially at home. We have to make sure our home field is a fortress.”

He knows better than most the value of playing at home.

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