You and Tyler [Rudy] played in Reserve games together while at the D.C. United Academy. How do those games compare to the style of play in college?
First of all, it’s different – the way of playing in Reserve Games and college. If I didn’t play in those Reserve games, it would have been harder getting used to playing in college. There are bigger guys than us, so the Reserve games prepared us for a bigger challenge.
So, you felt like it was easier to make that leap from high school to college?
Oh yeah. If I went straight from high school to college [without the Academy experience], it would have been a lot harder than it was. But playing with all those pro players in Reserve games and some of the Academy players – really good players – it helps a lot.
How many guys on your Maryland team were in Academy before becoming Terps?
There’s a bunch of them. We actually played – me and Tyler played against them. There’s a couple of players from [New York] Red Bulls and we have FC Dallas Academy players.
Knowing Tyler on the field as well as you do, what would you say is the most dangerous aspect of his game?
I know him a lot – we played together for a year. We both started at center mid – I played attacking mid and he played defensive mid. He’s really good at defending – I didn’t have to do anything at all defensively. The only job I had was get the ball, go forward because he took care of everything in the back. I didn’t know how bad of a player I am defensively until I came to Maryland and saw how it was and everything. And I’m not even playing in an attacking midfield position right now. I’m playing right mid, so it was pretty tough.
So, you feel like you’ve really had to step up your defensive abilities in college?
Yeah – way harder than I thought it would be, physically and even some of the formations of college soccer. The way that players – there’s a lot of defending you have to do. For Academy level, you have a certain amount of work you have to do and you were fine, but here, you have to be good at defending and going forward at the same time. It was a bit hard for me to go in and do headers because I usually don’t do that, to be honest with you.
What’s it like to be part of such a storied program like the Maryland one?
It was hard because when I first talked to the coach when I was in the Academy, like you said, it’s a big school and everybody that comes to Maryland is a really good player. I was expecting much more my first semester, last year, my freshman year. I thought I was gonna just come in and start my position, but you won’t know until you get here. Even the players that people don’t know right now, that don’t even play – they’re really good. You’ll have to see the practice, how hard it is – it will be like for all of the players. Even the redshirt players are really, really good, so it’s tough.
So, was that the biggest adjustment for you – the overall level of play from everybody?
Yeah. I mean, again, it gets harder because you’re used to starting every game….when you come down here and you’re not starting, it was pretty hard to get used to at first. I used to get mad at the coaches and all that, but after a while, you understand what they’re going through because there is a lot of good players.
What do you see as the biggest difference in your game in your sophomore vs. your freshman year?
Oh, I would say the experience level. Freshman year, you’re there to show how good you are and you do a lot of running, some stuff. But second semester, you get used to how the players play – you go through a lot freshman year. The spring semester was way better – you get used to the playing style and everything.
What was the biggest factor when you were choosing schools?
First of all, I didn’t have that much as options – I didn’t talk to that much because I didn’t think about attending college. I was just thinking about going pro straight up, but it was, like, a last-minute decision. I committed probably a couple of weeks before school started and the assistant coach we had – the goalkeeper coach – he’s the assistant coach for Maryland, so that’s why he talked to me. He asked me if I had any options and stuff and I told him that I did not even think about college and stuff. So, he invited me one time to come visit Maryland, ‘Tell me if you like it or not.’ So, I went one time, checked it out for a couple of hours and talked to the head coach.
So, if you weren’t initially considering colleges, where were you looking at?
I was thinking about just staying with D.C. – it was pretty hard to make the decision at the time.
Do you feel like you made the right decision?
I didn’t know at the time when I came down here how many things I need to work on before I go to the next level. So, I think I did the right choice.
Maryland has had a strong soccer program – what do you think it is about this team in particular that makes it so special?
It’s really different. Sasho [Cirovski] is a really different coach than I’ve ever had before. He tells you before the season starts – he invites the freshman group to his house and he tells us straight up how everything is going to be, like how you’re going to get mad at them and everything because you’re not going to get playing time if you don’t do what he tells us to do in practice. And even if we do that, there’s always better players because we’re attending one of the best schools in the country. He tells you everything. He’s not like other coaches – he doesn’t hide everything from you. He tells you everything you have to do, and also, the practice level is – if you come down, it’s a fight. It’s better than the games we play. Everybody competes hard in practice.
How did it feel getting your first goal of the season against Coastal Carolina in the tournament?
It was really great. It was like a day before that I found out I was starting in the game. I was really excited to show what I could do in a starting spot. The goal was in the first 10 minutes – I scored the first goal, and it was a big one. It was a good opening for the game, and we ended up winning 5-1. It was a big one. I was really happy about it.
What are your larger goals in your college career and beyond?
First of all, I want to get my own position taken care of. I want to start in my position – attacking mid. So, that’s the only big goal that I have as of right now, and score a lot of a goals like I was doing back in D.C. That’s where I can score goals – when I play attacking mid and can go forward, dribble through players. Second of all, yeah, title.
Can you think of a single moment or game that was a turning point for the team that made you realize you guys were going to go really far?
Yeah. We were undefeated 15 games in a row or something like that, but the last regular-season game against Wake Forest, we lost 4-2. And that’s when we realized how it feels to lose and we couldn’t lose any more games if you want to accomplish the last goal we have. We made three goals at the beginning of the season: to win the regular season first, to win the ACC and now the one we have, to win the national title. So far, we got the two covered and we have the last one left.
The team has had a lot of lopsided results go in your favor, including a 6-0 win over Cal in September and recently a 5-1 victory over Coastal Carolina. Do you expect it to be a high-scoring game [today]?
I would think so, comparing our run so far. But Georgetown is a really good team this year – they only lost two games if I’m not mistaken, so they have great attacking players. The only thing about their team is that defensively, they’re not as good. So, I would think that the better defensive team will win [today’s] game.
Has this Georgetown team surprised you guys this year?
Yeah. I wasn’t thinking that Georgetown was going to make it this year. Like, I watched them the first game of the season and they were good, but there were a lot of a good teams that I expected to get to the final four that didn’t.
Have you and Tyler exchanged any messages? Any good-natured trash-talking going on?
No trash-talking, but we’ve been talking today, talking about how they’re doing, their practices.