Entering the 2019 season, Maryland men’s soccer knew it would look a lot different than it did the last time it took the pitch in Santa Barbara.
Six different players from the 2018 championship squad now play professionally, resulting in a good deal of roster turnover in a relatively short amount of time.
With underclassmen being asked to step up in more than a few different positions, one of the few spots that was expected to be upperclassmen-heavy was at forward. Paul Bin, a three year vet under head coach Sasho Cirovski, was primed to step up as one of the team’s leading goal scorers in 2019 — along with junior Eric Matzelevich, graduate transfer Luke Brown and sophomore William James Hervé each working in as well.
Fast-forward two weeks into the season and the Terps are already without over half of that group. Maryland lost Bin to an ACL tear two weeks before the season, while Hervé and Brown have missed both of the team’s last two matches.
Hervé suffered a lower body injury against USF that’s held him for the last two weeks. Brown tweaked his hip against Virginia, and he’s missed the last match and a half. What’s left at forward is a much thinner form of what was once expected to be a formidable group for the 2019 season for the time being.
But, as the old saying goes, when one door closes, another opens. In this case, the injuries to Bin, Brown and Hervé have opened doors for the younger forwards on the team to build valuable experience early in the season.
“It was unexpected to say the least,” sophomore forward Justin Gielen said of the injuries sustained at forward. “But I think a lot of people are coming into their roles, I know I’m getting more comfortable out on the field. Guys like Malcolm [Johnston] and Justin Harris are playing really well as early as they are in their careers, and it’s really good to see.”
Gielen is one of several different options Cirovski has utilized at the top of the formation since the injuries began to pile up, giving the six-foot DeMatha product a significant run at forward in each of the last two matches. Gielen has managed a shot in each of Maryland’s first three tilts, registering shots on goal in two of those contests to give Cirovski a capable threat to score around goal.
Also stepping into a key role for the Terps is offense is sophomore forward Brayan Padilla. Cirovski praised Padilla prior to the season for his ability to play capably anywhere on the field, but he may have found a home at forward.
The Texas-native played sparingly last season, appearing in just six games and recording one assist, yet may be headed toward a breakout after notching his first career goal off a stellar free-kick against UCLA.
“I think we’ve gotten some really good performances, whether it’s Justin Gielen, Malcolm Johnston, or Brayan Padilla,” Cirovski said. “We know [Padilla] has the ability on a set-piece to score, he did it last spring and he’s done it already this year.”
Padilla was in a similar spot that most of the Terp forwards are currently in, with injuries being one of the lead causes for his abbreviated season in 2018. But as long as he’s healthy, he’s ready to attack the opportunity.
“Looking back from when I was injured, I can relate to those guys that are injured now,” Padilla said. “So I think I should play and give it my all because they wish they were in my position, and I think I’m ready to give my all for them.”
For the young Terp attacking group of Padilla, Matzelevich, Gielen and Johnston, it’s been so far, so good. Although they were shut out by a talented Virginia squad a week ago, Padilla and Matzelevich got two across against a good goalkeeper in UCLA’s Justin Garces and, along with Gielen, totaled seven shots and three shots on goal.
“It was a disappointing result, but we all know collectively that we grew as a team that game,” Gielen said. “We played a lot better than we did the game before and that’s pretty much all you can ask for early in the season.”
Fans saw last season just how long it can take for a team’s scoring attack to get going (see Maryland’s 400 minute scoring drought to begin last season), so the results through the first few games are already fairly positive. Still, Cirovski knows how youthful and inexperienced the guys he’s trotting are right now, seeing where they’re at right now as only the tip of the iceberg.
“The attacking relationships take time,” Cirovski said. “We’re just trying to push our guys along to get better. I feel like it’s coming. The good thing is we scored a couple of goals and I think we can continue that.”