By Emily Olsen
Tsubasa Endoh received a pass from his teammate on the right flank. The then-senior knew exactly what to do.
In front of a record-breaking crowd on Ludwig Field at the University of Maryland, Endoh pulled his UCLA defender toward the end line. The midfielder cut back with his right heel and sent a dangerous left-footed cross soaring toward the head of teammate Sebastian Elney. Elney finished the cross with a header to the upper left corner of the goal past the outstretched fingers of UCLA’s goalkeeper to give Maryland the 2-1 upset win in overtime.
Endoh finished his career at Maryland with 17 assists and 12 goals.
The fact that the match was his last home opener at the University of Maryland did not faze Endoh. The fact that the match was sent into overtime did not faze the senior. The fact that the match was against No. 1 UCLA in front of 8,449 fans did not faze the midfielder.
The Japanese native played all four years at Maryland in the same manner. Strictly soccer. Although a lot has changed since his first trip to the university in 2010, Endoh’s confidence on the ball and drive have only improved.
So it came as no surprise to his former college coach, Sasho Cirovski, when Toronto FC started Endoh in the season opener. It also did not shock the 24-year veteran head coach when Endoh wowed observers at the Red Bull Arena on the opening Sunday of the 2016 MLS season.
“He played like a seasoned veteran, and he’s played that similar roll for us in his career [at Maryland],” Cirovski said. “He’s very comfortable tactically and obviously very gifted technically with both feet.”
In fact, Cirovski was slightly outraged two months prior when Endoh was projected to go late in the second round, or even early third in the 2016 MLS draft.
“It was a bunch of bologna that people were talking about second round and beyond,” Cirovski said. “He has had a great four-year career. The second half of last season he was the best midfielder in the country, and I had said that publically a few times.”
Endoh impressed scouts at the 2016 MLS combine and earned the MVP award. On January 14, with the ninth pick overall in the 2016 MLS Draft, Toronto FC selected Tsubasa Endoh to their team. After a standout preseason performance, the club signed the midfielder to a contract and, just weeks later, placed the former University of Maryland leader in Toronto’s opening day starting XI.
For four years, Cirvoski stood just off the pitch coaching Endoh, and on MLS Soccer Sunday, Cirvoski was there once again.
Maryland Men’s soccer is currently in their spring season training, which consists of four matches, and three of those are set against MLS teams—Columbus Crew, Philadelphia Union and D.C. United.
On Sunday, Maryland played their first spring season match against the New York Red Bulls II. The Terps came away with a 2-2 draw against the USL team and immediately headed to Red Bull Arena to witness their former teammate make his MLS debut.
“When we planned this, we hoped that Tsubasa [Endoh] would be on the team and make the trip down, but to have him start in that game was just fantastic and a testament to his professionalism, his level of consistency and his maturity as a player,” Cirovski said. “I was really happy for him, really proud of him, and to have the whole team there cheering him on was just fantastic.”
Cirvoski is entering his 24th season coaching at the University of Maryland. In that time, he has collected two College Cup championships, eight conference championships and produced several MLS starters. He has kept a close relationship with his former players and harnesses the mantra that Maryland men’s soccer players are Terps for life.
“I try to watch all of our players, whether it is on TV or whenever I get a chance in person,” Cirovski said. “I have a lot of favorite teams in the league.”
Endoh is no different. After Toronto’s 2-0 victory over the Red Bulls, Endoh called his former coach.
“I talked to him the night before,” Cirovski said. “I spoke about an hour after the game too, after he showered up, on the bus ride, for a good thirty minutes. It was a really heart warming talk.”
The MLS commentators praised Endoh’s performance throughout Toronto FC’s match with the Red Bulls. Toronto will need performances like the one Endoh had Sunday in the first eight games of their season, as they will be on the road for all eight.
Endoh contributed mainly from the winger position with Sebastian Giovinco up top. This allowed the midfielder to serve several dangerous crosses toward the goal similar to the one he served when Maryland played UCLA. This time, it was not a winning cross that Endoh contributed, rather a drawn penalty.
In the 80th minute, Giovinco served a long cross to the sprinting Endoh, who had been pressuring the backline and goalkeeper Luis Robles all game. As the ball neared, Endoh leapt into the air. Instead of connecting with the ball, he found himself connecting with defender Kemar Lawrence. The rookie drew the foul.
“I thought he was one of the most dangerous guys in their game,” Endoh’s former Maryland teammate center back Alex Crognale said. “He was dangerous every time he got the ball, played some good crosses in,and, deservingly so, he won the PK.”
Former MLS MVP Giovinco kicked a low ball into the bottom left corner of the goal and put Toronto up 1-0.
“It was one of those things that gives you chills,” Crognale said. “Just to see him [Endoh] celebrating with a player like that, MLS MVP. I was really happy for him.”
Six months ago, Endoh was sprinting toward the University of Maryland’s soccer student section, fondly called the Crew, celebrating with his fellow classmates after contributing to the game-winning goal.
Fast-forward to MLS opening day and Endoh was sprinting toward a different teammate on a different club. A teammate well-learned in the game of soccer. A teammate who has played on some of the best teams in the world.
“I felt like I was looking through Tsubasa’s eyes. You can’t really put it in to words,” current Maryland goalkeeper Cody Niedermeier said. “It’s unbelievable. I hate saying it so generically but it really is unbelievable what he is able to accomplish.”
Niedermeier watched Endoh play for the last four years. In both of their first years at Maryland, the soccer players shared a dorm. Neidermeier was a local guy from eastern Maryland, while Endoh was an international student in a foreign country with little knowledge of the English language.
Off the field, Endoh pursued a degree in Sociology at Maryland while also enrolled in the university’s extensive English language program. In his senior season Endoh was named to the Academic All-Big Ten list—athletes must be lettering and maintain an overall cumulative GPA of 3.0 or higher.
“In the beginning, I wasn’t really sure what to expect. He was coming from Japan. There is always the international you don’t know what is going to happen, but the amount of work he put in on the field and in the classroom was second to none,” Niedermeier said. “He has worked for it and he is reaping the benefits right now.”
The team was able to exchange snapchats with Endoh throughout the opening weekend but showed most of their support by cheering from the stands.
Endoh has captured the eyes of the MLS viewers in his debut for Toronto FC and will have to continue improving to maintain a starting position on the roster. Sunday, Toronto FC faces another tough challenge as they play an NYCFC team led by Andrea Pirlo, David Villa and Tommy McNamara. As for who will be watching, Endoh has strong support back at Ludwig Field.
“One-hundred percent. Tsubasa is the man. I have no doubt he’s going to be successful and he’s going to have a long, great career and I am looking forward to following him along the way,” Niedermeier said. “I am calling it now, Rookie of the Year: Tsubasa.”