Eli Crognale recalls sitting on Maryland men’s soccer coach Sasho Cirovski’s “recruiting couch” over five years ago while on a visit to College Park for his older brother, Alex. Even though it was his brother being recruited at the time, the younger Crognale knew College Park was the place he wanted to be.
“Wow, this is an awesome place,” he remembered thinking. “I would love to come here.”
Eli came to as many games as he could at Ludwig Field during his older brother’s illustrious four-year career. He found Maryland’s fan section, “The Crew,” entertaining and the soccer atmosphere enticing.
Alex enrolled a semester early in 2013 before starting 12 games his freshman season. By the time he graduated, he was a MAC Hermann Trophy finalist, a Big Ten Defender of the Year, a First Team All-Big Ten selection and an All-American. He then signed a professional contract last December with the Columbus Crew in his home state of Ohio, where he’s started in 12 of 16 games this season.
The Crognale brothers’ careers could have overlapped for one season in 2016, but while Eli wanted to join Alex in College Park, the younger brother thought receiving an offer from a powerhouse program like Maryland was still a little far-fetched.
“I didn’t think I would ever be here,” he admitted. “I didn’t think I had the skill set or the confidence to come out here and join Maryland.”
The midfielder didn’t receive an initial opportunity to become a Terrapin after high school, so Crognale’s recruitment took him to Nashville, Tennessee, where he played his freshman year at Belmont.
Crognale scored one goal with two assists in his lone season for the Bruins, later receiving Horizon League All-Freshman honors after leading the team in shots. Despite the initial success, he didn’t feel Belmont was his final destination.
“I told my coaches at Belmont that I didn’t think it was the right fit and I wanted to go elsewhere,” he said.
Crognale played pickup soccer for several days last summer with members of the Terps soccer team and also attended two camps, where Cirovski was able to see him play again. A newly-made highlight tape sparked further interest from the coaching staff, so Cirovski talked to Alex about getting his younger brother to transfer to Maryland.
“He had a great freshman season at Belmont and after looking at some options to transfer, it became obvious to all of us that he belonged at Maryland,” Cirovski said when the 2017 recruiting class was announced. “He has great feet, terrific balance and a very good soccer mind."
Things came full circle for Crognale as he found himself back on Cirvoski’s “recruitment couch” before the 2017 season, but this time it was he who was being recruited to play for the Terps.
“It was really surreal and it was kind of a shock because the last time I was sitting in that was when Alex was here,” Crognale said.
He didn’t play in the first three games this season, but with a weekday opportunity for the Terps to rest up starters before the Big Ten opener this weekend against No. 4 Indiana, Crognale was one of three Terps to make their season debuts during Monday night’s 1-0 win against Cal Poly.
He checked in for midfielder Amar Sejdic for the last four minutes of the first half and then played the last 20 minutes to complete the shutout victory for the now No. 5-ranked Terps. Sophomores Paul Bin and Mike Heitzmann also saw the pitch for the first time this season.
While Alex started 69 games and played over 5,000 minutes in a Maryland uniform, Eli joked that his older brother didn’t give him much advice heading into the season.
“He lived his four years and I think he wants to lay off a little bit. He’s helpful, a little bit,” Crognale laughed. “But not a lot.”
Crognale’s aspiration to play at Maryland started on his brother’s college visit and grew during the games he watched him play, but he didn’t always believe he was good enough to end up playing collegiate soccer for Maryland. But now that he’s seen playing time wearing a Terrapin uniform, that desire has become reality.
“I’ve literally been waiting to do this for four years since Alex has been here,” he said. “I honestly can’t express how happy I am to be a part of the team and finally get a chance to go out there.”