While the backline for Maryland men’s soccer is comprised completely of first-year Terrapin starting defenders, an understandably tough transition, only one of these players has had to also adapt to soccer in a new country.
It’s just the first season in the United States for Johannes Bergmann. He, like forward Gordon Wild, is from Germany. But while Wild played a year at USC Upstate before transferring to Maryland, Bergmann’s had to become acclimated with a new continent, school and team in short period of time.
Following Tuesday’s 3-0 win against Rutgers, the Erfurt, Germany, native spoke in his secondary language with the American media for the very first time. “My English is not that good,” he said, quickly addressing one of the many challenges he’s faced in his time in College Park.
“At the beginning it’s difficult, but it’s getting better and better with the time. The team, they help me very, very well,” he said. “And it’s good that I have Gordon, another German teammate when I have some problems with the language.”
Wild took Bergmann under his wing when he visited campus for the first time in June, helping show him around and getting used to Division I soccer.
“There he helped me a lot,” Bergmann said. “But then as I came a second time back to Maryland in late July, there I became already accumstomed with the area here with the campus, with the training field, with the facilities. It was much easier.”
Even though he’s been playing in highly-competitive leagues for years in a country where soccer is the No. 1 sport, there have been noticeable differences between the pace of play in college soccer and what Bergmann was used to in Germany.
“I think here it’s more athletic,” he said. “In Germany I played with a lot of more older players together, and here, very young players. The pace is a little bit higher.”
In Europe, Bergmann was a member of RW Erfurt, a youth Bundesliga club, and both the U-18 and U-20 German National Teams. He spent his last three years playing for FSV Wacker 90 Nordhausen, a team in Germany’s highest amateur division.
While the language and culture barriers have been improving progressions, Bergmann’s performance has been consistently solid through Maryland’s first six matches. He’s played 513 minutes so far, the third-most on the team behind midfielder Jake Rozhansky and defender Chase Gasper.
“You can definitely see that Johannes is a very good player,” Wild said. “He brings a lot of maturity into our game.”
After coming to the states from Germany, Wild scored a nation-leading 16 goals in his only season with USC Upstate. He, too, is noticing Bergmann’s similarly quick transformation to college soccer in America.
“I think so far he’s been showing extremely well with his passing, with his spacing, with his calmness and his composure on the ball,” Wild said. “He’s a good German.”
The Terps posted six shutouts last season, including a stretch of five consecutive clean sheets in a two-week span. Even with one of the best defenses in the country graduating, the new Maryland backline has filled in and is exceeding early-season expectations. The Terps already have four shutouts this season, including three in a row during a current 308-minute scoreless streak.
“You need to be good defensively to be successful in college,” head coach Sasho Cirovski said. “That’s one of our goals. Having a few clean sheets at this point, that’s a good sign.”
He’s only lived in the United States for a few months now, but Bergmann has quickly become a defensive leader at center back and is eager to grow with the nation’s third-ranked Terrapins.
“I like it here [playing] soccer,” he said, “and I’m proud to be here.”