SANTA BARBARA, Calif. — Three months ago, it looked like the season was getting away from Maryland men’s soccer. After the first four matches of 2018, the Terrapins were not only winless, they were also scoreless. And through 76 minutes of the Sept. 10 match against West Virginia, a zero still showed on the scoreboard.
But in that 77th minute, Maryland’s captains combined for the jumping-off point of the season. Chase Gasper crossed the ball into a crowded box, and Amar Sejdic’s deflection put it in the back of the net for the team’s first goal of the season.
That score led to the first victory of 2018, and nearly three months later to the day, the Terrapins were playing in the national championship match against Akron on Sunday, Dec. 9.
“This became Amar’s team,” head coach Sasho Cirovski said. “We have great seniors, but Amar took this team over. He took ownership.”
The offense had improved dramatically since its early-season drought, but against the Zips on the big stage, it couldn’t quite break through. That all changed in the 57th minute when Johannes Bergmann took a cleat to the face. Maryland was subsequently awarded a penalty kick, its first such opportunity of the season. As to who would take the biggest shot of the game, the answer was clear as day: Sejdic.
“It’s a moment I’ve thought of since I came to Maryland,” he said. “I knew that if the moment came, I wanted to be the guy to step up and take it.”
But Sejdic wasn’t the only person who thought he should take the penalty. Gasper, his fellow captain, had the utmost confidence in the senior midfielder, as did the rest of the squad.
“Chase handed me the ball over and he told me, ‘You got this,’” Sejdic said. “From that moment on, I knew I had the support of my brothers and I was going to put it in the back of the net.”
“He’s one of our best penalty-kick takers,” Cirovski said. “When the moment presented itself, I know what was going through his head — he couldn’t wait to get there and put the ball in the back of the net.”
Sejdic did what leaders do — he beat Akron’s goalkeeper, Ben Lundt, to score the game-winning goal. When his teammates stormed behind him in celebration, it was clear that their confidence was well-placed.
“It’s a testament to him to have the courage to step up and to elevate his game for that moment,” Cirovski said.
The captain’s strike to put the ball in the back of the net was his eighth goal of the season, and it was the team’s 30th overall. That left nearly 33 minutes until the Terrapins would be crowned champions, and it was up to the back line to stop the Zips attack.
Maryland hadn’t conceded a goal all NCAA Tournament long, and it wasn’t about to give up an equalizer in the last match of the season. Led by a pair of juniors in Dayne St. Clair and Donovan Pines, each of Akron’s chances was stymied. When the final whistle blew, the Terrapins stormed the field and reveled in the team’s surprising close to the season.
“When we scored, it was really like a switch that turned on that we know we can win this game right now,” Pines said. “We just bought in, focused, made sure everybody covered each other, played great defense, were smart with the ball, moved the ball around as quick as possible. We just found a way to win the game.”
Following the match, Sejdic was one of five players named to the 2018 College Cup All-Tournament team, joining the stars of the defense: Donovan Pines, Eli Crognale, Ben Di Rosa and Dayne St. Clair. Sejdic was also awarded the Offensive Most Outstanding Player.
For Sejdic and the rest of the class that came to College Park in 2015, this is a title four years in the making. An Elite Eight loss to Clemson in penalties robbed the team of a chance to make the College Cup in that first year, and losses in their first NCAA Tournament match two years in a row took the legs out from under the Terrapins.
In four years with the Terps, Sejdic put together an impressive resume. He tallied 23 goals and 63 points, including a team-leading eight and 17 in his final season. As a captain, he not only led the team in the box score, he led them to a title.
This team is going to lose players in the offseason. Sejdic, Gasper, Sebastian Elney, Andrew Samuels and DJ Reeves are all set to graduate. And juniors Pines and St. Clair could leave a year early due to their professional prospects right now. But no matter where these players wind up, one thing will be constant across the board: they’re leaving College Park as national champions.
“Within us, we’ve been through it all,” Sejdic said. “It truly is an honor for us to be able to lift up this trophy and celebrate for all the people that support us. It really means the world.”