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Maryland's Sebastian Elney stayed patient during scoring drought

The freshman should be a cornerstone for the Terps next season.

Sebastian Elney celebrates with teammates Dayne St. Clare (left) and Aaron Franco after scoring the game-winning goal in Maryland's 2-1 victory over UCLA on Sept. 4.
Sebastian Elney celebrates with teammates Dayne St. Clare (left) and Aaron Franco after scoring the game-winning goal in Maryland's 2-1 victory over UCLA on Sept. 4.
Screenshot via BTN

Forty-two days. After Sebastian Elney scored six goals in his first 30 days as a Maryland Terrapin, it took 42 more for him to get his seventh goal of this season.

During an unbelievably fast start to his career, Maryland's freshman was one of the nation's leading rookie goal-scorers and a centerpiece of the Terps' offense. Back then, it was rare for Elney to go two games without a goal. But that's a pace most players can't keep up.

Streakiness is a fundamental part of soccer, especially at the college level. It's not easy for a freshman to dominate for almost half of a season the way Elney did, especially against Maryland's always-difficult early-season schedule.

He made an immediate impact upon his arrival in College Park, scoring three times in the team's first four games. Elney's first home goal was a header that gave the Terps a 2-1 overtime victory over No. 1 UCLA in his first game at Ludwig Field.

"I was just looking to contribute any way I could," he said. "It was unreal, it felt like a dream."

Ranked the No. 13 recruit in the class of 2015 by Top Drawer Soccer, the Boca Raton, Florida product quickly developed into the main offensive threat for a team desperately in need of one. What was working for him so early in the season? Don't ask Elney. He won't tell you.

"Not really sure, to be honest," he said. "Wish I knew."

After a three-game scoring drought in September, Elney returned to form with a goal against Georgetown and a two-score performance against Wisconsin, and all seemed well.

He didn't score in Maryland's next game, a loss to Northwestern. Then, after missing a game while traveling with the U.S. under-20 team in Germany, he didn't score against Penn State or Indiana, a span of 19 days.

Elney's struggles could easily be blamed on the type of defenses he was facing. Many of Maryland's opponents elected to play a style of defense that involved keeping their entire team back on defense and allowing the Terps to bang their heads against a wall, racking up a lot of shot attempts without getting many quality looks.

"At first it was hard, but I think playing those teams definitely helped us [with] what we're doing now" Elney said. "It developed us even more."

However, Elney continued to miss the net. Eventually, his lack of goals couldn't be chalked up to chance or bad luck. His goalless streak extended to three games, then five, a span of 26 days. This came exactly as the Terps struggled to get shots up and fell to teams they were expected to beat, like Delaware and Northwestern. Elney kept working, putting in extra time getting the ball between the posts.

"I worked on finishing a little bit more after every practice," Elney said. "Just working with Eryk [Williamson], working with touches, combos, crossing, shooting.

"He was close," Maryland head coach Sasho Cirovski said. "He had a couple of really good assists, a couple of close calls. For goal-scorers it's a matter of inches. I think he hit the goalpost in one of the games."

He went scoreless in the team's second-to-last regular season game, and missed the regular season finale due to a yellow card accumulation. That brought his goalless streak to six games and 38 days.

"Sometimes that just happens," senior Cody Albrecht said leading up the Terps' Big Ten tournament opener against Michigan. "You get in scoring droughts, and it could be for different reasons; not getting the ball in good spots, the bounces aren't just going your way. He stuck with it and I think he's going to find his way here in the next couple games and score a few more."

And that he did, heading in a Chris Odoi-Atsem cross from eight yards out to put Maryland ahead 1-0 against the Wolverines in a game the Terps would win 5-2. After 42 days, he was finally back on the scoreboard.

"Sasho always talks about amnesia, and just forgetting about it and moving onto the next one, so I just try to focus on that, Elney said. "I'm just really happy that one finally came against Michigan."

Elney was tied for second among all freshman in goals early in the year, but his second-half drought dropped him to a tie for 17th. He didn't score again during the Terps' deep postseason run before they saw their season come to a close in penalty kicks against Clemson in the NCAA quarterfinals. Still, the 18-year-old will come back to College Park next fall having another chance to climb the nation's goal leaderboard as a sophomore.

"He'll be a big cornerstone of our team next year," Albrecht said. "He is this year, and he'll be a big piece for us. Hopefully he can keep his scoring going, because we need it."