A couple of weeks ago I received a heads-up that a youngster in south-central Texas was planning on making the 4.5 hour drive to Frisco to see Brian Mullan and to meet Wells Thompson in person when the Rapids played at FC Dallas. When I approached the guys about it, they already knew. To them, 14-year-old Evan Mundine is a friend with whom they communicate regularly.
Here’s the story…
Evan's mom, Frieda, was a soccer fan in northern California before moving to Texas, where Evan was born. As such, Mrs. Mundine already had an MLS team in the San Jose Earthquakes, which she and Evan watched on TV from a distance.
Meanwhile, the Mundines had also adopted FC Dallas as their 'new' home team since they could watch them in person. In 2005, they attended their first FCD game in Frisco, where Mrs. Mundine and husband, Bobby, and came away overwhelmed at how friendly Dallas players like Drew Moor, Oscar Pareja, and Clarence Goodson were to the fans, including their sons Evan and brother, Aaron.
Back in Bastrop, a town southeast of Austin, Texas, Evan enjoyed playing right midfield on his youth club. He paid close attention to how Mullan played that role with the 'Quakes. Actually, he paid attention to the entire team, which is why he was so excited when the team moved to Houston in 2006. Now the Mundines had a team much closer to home.
After the Dynamo's first game, Evan joined other fans outside the stadium seeking player autographs. But he had an advantage: he 'knew' the players since he had been watching them on TV.
"I called Brian by name," Evan said of how they met. "The next day I wrote him a letter. When I saw him at the next game, he remembered me. So from then we just talked at every game."
August 23, 2007, two weeks before his birthday, Evan fractured his leg in a youth game. Everything changed from that day forward.
After trying to recover from the leg and ankle fractures, the doctors then discovered that his knee was also fractured. It was nearly 20 months before he could begin light jogging again.
But things got worse for Evan. In 2011, he had open chest surgery and had his sternum rebuilt. Then two more follow up surgeries. Not even seven months later, in early 2012, he was diagnosed with non-responsive crohn’s disease.
Through it all, whenever he was down or in pain, he'd get a call, text, or an email from a player he had met. Brian in particular, had the timing to call him twice during difficult moments, Mrs. Mundine explained, lifting Evan's spirit, providing encouragement, and giving him confidence to push through.
“They are players I really look up to because they are good,” Evan said. “They are doing their job but also living their dreams. And they are also regular guys and very approachable. Their support helps me when I’m feeling down.”
After one of the chest surgeries, Evan's mom took to twitter to ask his MLS friends to pray for him. Drew Moor shared Evan's story with his teammates, including Wells Thompson. Thompson (@wellsthompson) reached out to Evan (@bilzy) and their friendship took off via twitter and email.
"He tells me that I'm an inspiration to him, but it's the other way, too," Thompson said as he pulled out a bible verse pocket book that Evan had mailed to him. "He's such an inspiration to me. When I have a bad day or bad day at practice, I think how he deals with 100 times more than me."
Evan has received many jerseys and soccer balls from his MLS friends. But he auctioned off most of them to raise money for the bone-marrow treatment or Marcia Williams, wife of long-time MLS midfielder Andy Williams. He also raised money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society in honor of MLS defender Todd Dunivant’s brother, Luke, who couragely battled the disease.
Two weeks ago, his parents made the long drive to the Dallas suburb so Evan could see Mullan again, and to meet Thompson in person.
"He's had a rough go the past few years, and he lifts my spirits up, too," Mullan says of their friendship. "He's an incredible person. He does anything he can for anybody in need. His courage and his personality make you happy to be around him."
"I felt like I was more excited to meet him than he was to meet me,” Thompson said after the visit.
The players gave Evan his first Rapids jersey for his collection, personalized with his name on the back.
“It’s special,” Mrs. Mundine said of the players ties with her son. “It really cheers me up that players who he looks up to reach out and support him and tell him they believe in him.”
Now 14, Evan said he know it’s harder to become a pro than just being a good soccer player. But he’s still optimistic. And the players are helping him believe.
"Brian told Evan that he can't wait for the day when he's in the stands cheering Evan on while wearing the Mundine name on his back,” Mrs. Mundine said. “I don’t doubt it at all.”
(Photo: August 11, 2012: Wells Thomson, Hunter Freeman, Bobby Mundine (dad), Evan Mundine, Brian Mullan oustide the locker room at FC Dallas Stadium).