A month into the season, Maryland men’s soccer has exceeded all expectations — A 6-0-2 record. A three-game winning streak. The No. 1 ranking in the nation.
The Terps began the season ranked fourth place, and opened at No. 16 UCLA in a rematch of last year, when No. 6 Maryland upset No. 1 UCLA at Ludwig Field. This time, the game ended in a draw, but since then, Maryland has won six of seven, with their only other draw being on Sept. 9 at No. 4 Indiana.
Following the tie in Bloomington, two overtime wins at Rutgers and Penn State netted the Terps the top ranking in the NCSAA Coaches Poll. They have since beaten No. 22 Michigan State, 2-0, to maintain their No. 1 ranking.
While Maryland’s soccer program is historically strong, this season has started off much stronger than those in recent memory. Through eight games last year, the Terps were 3-2-3. In 2014, they were 3-3-2. In 2013, the team started 3-2-3. So what’s different this year?
For one, there is sophomore transfer forward Gordon Wild. The Cologne, Germany native netted an NCAA-leading 16 goals in just 15 games last year for the USC Upstate Spartans. So far, his skill has transferred over to Maryland, as his eight goals this season lead the team and rank second in the NCAA. He has notched three multi-goal games already this season, including the game-winner in overtime against Penn State Sept. 16.
“Last year, [the Terps] didn’t have a dependable finisher like Wild,” said M Greenberg, a junior international business and finance double major. “Now that he’s here, he’s been our go-to guy and I feel like he’s given the team a lot of confidence.”
Junior kinesiology major Michael Fjeldal echoed this sentiment.
“The biggest difference I’ve seen this year is the improvement in the clutch,” he said. “The team is able to win close games in late situations instead of settling for draws like last year.”
But Gordon Wild and the improved offense haven’t been the sole keys to the Terps’ success. Goalkeeper Cody Niedermeier is having another great season after being named the Big Ten Championship Most Valuable Defensive Player in 2015. His 0.81 Goals Against Average this season is just a tick above his 0.79 mark a year ago, and he has recorded two shutouts in the first eight games of the year.
And, as always, there are the fans. In five home games this season, the Terps have averaged over 5,000 fans per night. Many of these fans are part of The Crew, the student fan base that screams and cheers and yells at the opposing team throughout the game. Not every school has such a dedicated soccer fan base, which works as an advantage for Maryland.
“When the players know they have the crowd behind them, they feel it,” junior accounting and finance major Kyle Brown said. “And on the other side, our fans get into the heads of opposing players, applying pressure hoping that they’ll make a mistake.”
But will the Terps be able to maintain this success for the remainder of the season?
“The team needs to not let the number one ranking get in their head,” Greenberg said. “If they focus on kicking the ball and working as a team rather than thinking about the ranking then they’ll be playing the best they can.”
The Terps will go for their fourth straight win Friday at Northwestern, before returning home to Ludwig Field against the University of San Diego Monday.
Featured photo by Lauren Anikis.