It might be an oxymoron, but Calum Mallace’s start against Houston on Saturday could only be described as a second debut.
When Mallace, the Impact's second round pick in the 2012 MLS SuperDraft, made his actual debut in D.C. on June 30, he was replaced by Jeb Brovsky at the half. Playing in the right back position his new coaches wanted him to embrace, the rookie appeared ill at ease from the get-go, almost scoring an own goal before being hung out to dry minutes later by Chris Pontius on United’s opener.
Almost four months later, Mallace has returned to the role he grew up playing in the center of the park. And if Montreal’s 1-1 draw with Houston spelled an end to their 2012 postseason aspirations, the 22-year-old’s performance was a source of muted hope for 2013.
“I thought I played alright,” Mallace told MLSsoccer.com by phone on Saturday. “Not my best game, not my worst game. I started the game in the middle, which is my natural position, and I think that, from the very first minute, I felt a lot more comfortable.”
His colleague for the night, veteran midfielder Patrice Bernier, wholeheartedly agreed and explained that, against a tough Houston side, Mallace had displayed a healthy amount of aggressiveness.
“Being older, I had to manage the middle more because he hadn’t played a lot, but he showed good things in a difficult game that we had to win,” Bernier said. “He did particularly well in the first half, when we enjoyed a bit more control.”
Getting a chance to make another first impression in MLS could be a defining moment in Mallace’s career. Looking back on his rookie season, though, the turning point has arguably been the end of the right back experiment.
Two goals from midfield in the club’s final two Reserve League games set the stage for Mallace’s return to the first team, and he couldn’t be more grateful for it.
“I really appreciate what the coaching staff has done,” Mallace said. “They gave me confidence by playing me in a big game like this.”