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Maryland soccer captain George Campbell is embracing his new role on defense

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The senior is leading the No. 6 Terps’ reinvented backline.

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George Campbell vs. Hofstra
Photo by Maryland Athletics

The Maryland men’s soccer team was in the middle of an offensive drill during a practice this spring when head coach Sasho Cirovski asked rising senior George Campbell to step in at right back.

The team lost three of its starting defenders in the offseason—Alex Crognale, Suli Dainkeh and Chris Odoi-Atsem—so naturally, there were holes that needed to be filled in their absences.

Cirovski and his staff turned to Campbell, one of the program’s three-year veterans who arrived at College Park as an All-American high school forward and midfielder coming off Maryland’s Gatorade Player of the Year award.

Campbell has played in 56 games as a Terrapin, scoring 10 goals with two assists. After playing in 20 games his freshman year, he battled injury as a sophomore, limiting him to a career-low 13 games. When younger offensive talent like Gordon Wild, Eryk Williamson, Sebastian Elney and others made it difficult for Campbell to remain a starter, he came off the bench in 19 of Maryland’s 21 games last season.

So this spring, when presented the chance to assume a new role and more playing time as a defender, Campbell was more than willing to give it a shot.

“He’ll always do anything for the team,” Cirovski said of his senior captain. “When we talked about a new role for him, he was all eyes and ears and dove right into it.”

As a player who’s been a starter, one who’s been sidelined due to injury, scored the program’s first hat trick since 2005 as a sophomore and even taken a bench role as an upperclassman, Campbell has seized the new opportunity since that spring practice.

“From that point on, it was something that I really took as a challenge and I really wanted to pursue it and get better with it,” he said. “I’m still learning and I’m trying to get better with it every day.”

Campbell started and played in all but 18 minutes on defense during the season-opening victory over Santa Clara on Friday. However, the backline looked like a work in progress overall. The Terps allowed two goals on nine shots against a Broncos team that scored just 10 times the entire 2016 season. They also conceded a sloppy third-minute goal after failing to clear a free kick.

A lot of the first-game struggles can be attributed to the roster changes since last season. The Terps, in addition to a first-year defender in Campbell, have started Chase Gasper, a UCLA transfer who missed last season with an injury; Johannes Bergmann, another transfer who’s still growing accustomed to the pace of collegiate soccer after arriving from Germany; and sophomores Miles Stray and Donovan Pines, who started four combined games last season.

But after the trip back from California, the Terps put extra attention on the defensive end in practice prior to Monday’s home-opener against Hofstra.

“The two days of training we had, we put a lot of emphasis on getting tougher defensively,” Campbell said. “Before we went out to the huddle [Monday] we said, ‘Take pride and no shots, take pride and no goals.’”

The backline took that mission to heart, posting a shutout and holding Hofstra without a single shot until the 55th minute. That quick progress over one weekend gives Cirovski optimism moving forward.

“To hold a talented attacking team like Hofstra to very few chances and very few shots over 90 minutes is a testament to the growth and maturity they showed just in a few days,” he said. “It makes me hopeful for what could be down the line.”

The reinvented backline has just two games under its belt, but with Campbell’s senior leadership, the defense has ample time to gain more synergy as the season progresses.

“The big difference is that we’re just continuing to grow as a group,” Campbell said. “I think [Monday was] a good reflection of the growth that we have made and the potential that we have for this year.”