Hardly anyone thought Maryland men’s soccer would get this far. But Chase Gasper certainly did.
“Every season, that’s your mindset,” the senior defender said. “From the very beginning of the season, preseason, all the work during the spring and over the summer is to get back to that final. That’s what you want to do.”
The Terrapins have won three matches in a row to start the NCAA Tournament, and after spending the past two weekends in Durham, North Carolina, and Lexington, Kentucky, they’re headed to Santa Barbara, California, for the College Cup.
Maryland soccer hasn’t made a Final Four since 2013, when it eventually fell to Notre Dame in the championship match. That followed up a semifinal loss to Georgetown in penalties the year before. To get back to the College Cup in 2018, the Terps knocked off a trio of opponents they hadn’t faced in years. North Carolina State and Duke were played for the first time since 2013, and the last time they battled Kentucky was all the way back in 2002.
Despite that unfamiliarity, Maryland not only defeated all three teams, it rolled to easy victories, which had been few and far between this season. The Terrapins have yet to concede a single goal throughout the NCAA Tournament, outscoring their three opponents by a 5-0 margin thus far.
“We definitely enjoyed what we did and we celebrated that,” senior Sebastian Elney said, “but as soon as we got back on the practice field on Sunday, it was narrowing down and focusing up on our next opponent.”
That “next opponent” is one in which the team is intimately familiar with it. If the team is to advance to the national championship game on Sunday night, it’ll have to knock off No. 2-seeded Indiana. Of course, playing in the Big Ten since 2014, the Terrapins have played the Hoosiers in each of the past five seasons. Head coach Sasho Cirovski is known for scheduling tough opponents, so the Terps and Hoosiers met a few times before the realignment.
In the first meeting this year between the teams on Oct. 12, Maryland played then-No. 4 Indiana even for 89 minutes and 42 seconds, but star defender Andrew Gutman scored the game-winning goal with 18 seconds left to send the Terps home on a sour note.
But that match taught Maryland a truly invaluable lesson. “You have to fight until the very last minute of the game,” Gasper said. “You have to be 100 percent focused until that final whistle is blown and you cannot concede.”
For the third time in the past five seasons, Maryland and Indiana have faced each other twice in one calendar year. With the Hoosiers then ranked No. 2 in the nation, the teams faced off in the Big Ten tournament semifinals on Nov. 9. This time around, the scores was tied 1-1 through 110 minutes before Indiana eventually prevailed on penalties and sent the Terps home once again.
That’s two losses in two tries for Maryland, but the team isn’t discouraged. In fact, its ability to essentially match arguably the best squad in the country for nearly two full games has given the Terrapins a well-deserved sense of confidence.
“We’re going after games, we’re not scared to play anyone,” junior forward Paul Bin said. “We’re going out with the mentality that we’re going to win every battle we get.”
The biggest challenge in beating the Hoosiers rests with stopping Gutman. He has scored all three of his team’s goals in the two games against the Terrapins, and the senior left back has been one of the best players in the country this year.
“I respect him 100 percent, he’s a great player,” junior defender Donovan Pines said. “We just have to shut him down at his own game, track back, watch him at all times and watch for the crosses.”
“He’s a great player and luckily we’ve seen him twice already,” Gasper said. “We’re familiar. I think we’re going to make the proper adjustments.”
Now playing their best soccer of the season, the Terps believe they can beat anybody. And with just two matches to go, the program’s fourth national championship is right there for the taking.
On Friday night at 10:45 p.m. ET at Harder Stadium, we’ll see if they have what it takes to make history.