When Connor Maloney was drafted by Columbus Crew SC in 2017, he joined the club as a forward coming out of the Penn State. He spent his next two years in Ohio transitioning to the right back spot, but when he finally had his first chance to start in two consecutive matches for the Black & Gold, it wasn’t in either of those positions.
With Waylon Francis, Hector Jimenez and Aboubacar Keita all unavailable and Milton Valenzuela sidelined due to a season-ending knee injury, head coach Caleb Porter turned to Maloney, who had played just 15 minutes this season, to be the starting left back against both FC Cincinnati and Toronto FC over the last couple of weeks.
And the fullback couldn’t be any happier about it.
“When you put the badge on, there’s nothing like it,” the 24-year-old player told Massive Report. “Getting these two starts was big for me. I haven’t played much all year, but I was called upon for these two starts and just gave everything I had and it’s always going to be this way with me. For me, wherever they need me on the field, I’ll go out and play because I want to be on that field no matter what. That’s what I’m about. I love to compete and to be on the field with those guys.”
Maloney responded to Porter’s call with a pair of solid performances at the left back spot, a totally new position for him. The fullback was particularly impressive on the defensive side of the ball, registering a team-high five tackles against the Ohio rivals and three interceptions in the duel with the Canadians.
Building on his form match after match, Maloney expects to see the field again this Wednesday against New York City FC, the same opponents against which he logged those 15 minutes in June, at Yankee Stadium.
“The first game was definitely about getting some kinks out. It was my first game in a while,” the fullback added. “And then I thought I played pretty well against Toronto. It was a little better than last game and defensively I felt I was pretty solid. It’s not your preferred position and it’s not your strong foot, but you deal with it. As a professional, you prepare for it the entire week and go out and play your game. And I try not to think too much about it because when you do, it’s in your head. I felt good and hopefully there’s more to come.”
Judging by the way he played in these two games, it was hard to believe the fullback hadn’t started a match for the Crew in over two years, as his last start was in a 2-2 road tie with the Real Salt Lake in July 29, 2017.
Maloney was loaned out to the Pittsburgh Riverhounds in the last two seasons, but every time he hit the training ground, he was working towards getting playing time with the Crew.
“It requires a lot of focus,” he commented. “But we got a great group of guys in the locker room and we have great outside backs like Harrison and Hector, who I look up to every single day and I feel that just by looking at what they do and playing against them, I get better.”
From Jimenez, he also learned the benefits of being a versatile player. In a long regular season, players go down for injury, national team call-ups and suspensions and those able to fill in more than one spot have a greater chance of seeing more of the field.
And that, as we all know now, is Maloney’s number one priority.
“Being versatile is definitely huge,” he reflected. “Hector is probably the most versatile guy in the league and it’s very nice to be like that. You have to try to show your skills regardless of the position you’re playing. I obviously don’t think I’m anywhere near his level in that regard, but I would like to get there. It would be a cool skill and a nice thing to have in this league.”