At this point last year, the Maryland men’s soccer team already bowed out from the NCAA Tournament after losing in penalty kicks in the second round to Albany. One of the main reasons for that early elimination and ultimate end of season collapse was the lack of leadership, according to head coach Sasho Cirovski.
“The best teams are always teams that have strong on-field leadership and become player-centered teams,” Cirovski said to a journalism class earlier this semester. “One of my goals has been trying to take our leaders and empower them so they can take more responsibility and they can take over the team.”
Cirovski emphasized the importance of empowering the leaders of this team as it translates to on-field success, often sitting down with the team’s top leaders to do so. The Terps’ midseason fixtures against Ohio State and Denver were turning points according to Cirovski, who finally found his team taking control of itself and becoming more player-driven.
“My sense is that they’re really starting to take ownership and they’re solving problems,” he said. “I’ve had to coach less and say less in the past two games than I have all year long and that is what is getting me more excited than anything else right now.”
This year, the University of Maryland boasts 12 upperclassmen on the roster, including six seniors, compared to last year’s three.
That leadership provides the team with a certain advantage, according to senior Andrew Samuels.
“We have a lot of experience on this team and obviously the past two years we didn’t do as well as we wanted to in the NCAA Tournament,” Samuels said. “And so this last year, knowing that it’s our last year, it’s just really helping us propel forward.”
Near the start of the Big Ten tournament, Cirovski gave Samuels the captain’s armband.
“I think he’s been one of our most important players for four years. He’s a terrific student and a good leader,” Cirovski said. “I felt like I wanted to empower him and reward him a little more out there, and demand a little more out of him.”
Samuels, along with fellow central defensive midfielder Eli Crognale, allows senior and leading-scorer Amar Sejdic to play more of an attacking role, a role he’s thrived in – scoring a goal in both of their NCAA Tournament victories.
“It’s nice to know that they have my back, whether there is a mistake or a turnover I know that they’re already covering the field behind me, so it’s a great deal of trust,” said Sejdic. “And I know that when they have the ball that they’re always looking for me, so I tip my hat to them because they really work their butts off for this team.”
Amar Sejdic has noticed the impact that Samuels’ leadership has on the field as well.
“I really like him as a captain. I think that he motivates a lot of people, not through just his voice on the field, but just through his action.”
Although fellow senior Amar Sejdic describes him as one of the more quiet kids on the team, Andrew Samuels provides a wealth of leadership experience. According to Samuels himself, he has captained every team that he’s ever played for before coming to the University of Maryland.
“It definitely means a lot. I’ve captained every team I’ve been on, so it really means a lot to captain this team,” says Samuels. “You know you commit to a team and you really want to be the captain, be a leader on the team one day so it’s a big honor to actually be the one wearing the armband.”
The leadership that Samuels provides from the defensive midfield has helped the team tremendously. Since the start of the Big Ten tournament, the Terps have allowed only one goal and kept a clean sheet in three out of the four games during that time span, winning three out of those four as well.
“Our seniors have a big leadership group, so we all kind of wear a captain’s armband, obviously only a couple get to actually wear the armband,” Samuels said. “So it’s an honor to wear the armband for the team, but all seniors have a big leadership role on this team.”
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