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Terps in the Pros: Recapping how Maryland alumni fared in the MLS is Back Tournament

With 14 alumni young and old taking part, Maryland was well-represented in the MLS’s summer tournament.

SOCCER: AUG 01 MLS is Back Quarterfinal - San Jose Earthtquakes v Minnesota United FC

After the COVID-19 pandemic forced the MLS to postpone play less than two weeks into its 25th season, top-flight American soccer returned on July 8 with the outset of the MLS is Back tournament.

With all but two clubs participating, several former Terps saw action at the grounds of the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, Florida. Here’s how some of the more notable alumni fared in this summer’s edition of MLS soccer.

Chase Gasper, Minnesota United

After being selected 15th overall in the 2019 MLS SuperDraft, Gasper has proven to be one of the more promising prospects to come out of College Park in recent years.

Making 14 starts as a rookie in 2019, Gasper entered play in Orlando as one of head coach Adrian Heath’s first choice defenders. Utilizing a 4-1-4-1 formation in most of its restart fixtures with Gasper at left back, the 24-year-old fullback was given the freedom to push forward on the front foot and assist in Minnesota United’s attack.

Gasper started in all six of the team’s matches en route to the tournament semi-final, totaling 15 interceptions, tied for the most in the tournament, and winning 17 of his tackle attempts. He also managed a 74 percent passing accuracy and showed tremendous confidence at the penalty spot, burying the game-winning goal in the tournament round of 16.

Graham Zusi, Sporting Kansas City

If Gasper represents the future of Maryland soccer, Zusi almost certainly represents the past. However, that hasn’t stopped the class of 2008 graduate to continue to produce at a high level.

At 34-years-old, Zusi was a constant on the right side of the pitch for Sporting KC, not missing a start in all five matches his club played in. Converted from a central midfielder to defender as he got later in his career, Zusi started on the back four of both a 4-1-4-1 and 4-3-3 but assumed a more offensive-minded role within Sporting KC’s tactical approach.

As an attack-centric right back, Zusi completed 84 percent of his passes and scored a 91st minute game-winning goal to lift his side to a 3-2 victory over Colorado Rapids.

Eryk Williamson, Portland Timbers

Having spent the 2019 season on loan, Williamson returned to Portland Timbers’ first team and more than earned his keep along with the MLS is Back Tournament title.

Starting in six out of seven matches as one of two holding midfielders in Portland’s 4-2-3-1, Williamson’s role allowed him to play as a hybrid of an attacking and defensive midfielder.

Offensively, he served a crucial role playing behind the front four main attackers, carefully picking out passes including one assist in a 2-1 win over Houston Dynamo. On the defensive end of the pitch, Williamson helped anchor Portland’s defense, which didn’t concede more than two goals in any of its seven games en route to winning the tournament.

Zac MacMath, Real Salt Lake

Now a 10-year veteran of the MLS, MacMath came into the MLS is Back tournament as Real Salt Lake’s first choice goalkeeper following the retirement of Nick Rimando.

MacMath started the tournament in fantastic form, blocking four shots to earn a clean sheet in a 2-0 victory over Colorado Rapids. He followed that up with two more clean sheets, helping lead his side to an undefeated group stage and guarantee qualification for the round of 16.

MacMath went on to concede five goals against San Jose Earthquakes, two of which were on penalty kicks, ending his streak of clean sheets and his club’s run in the tournament. However, MacMath still finished tied for the lead in clean sheets with three, and showed a strong capability for stopping shots from close and long range.