Relationships are important in any profession. In soccer, relationships are paramount to a successful offensive attack.
“It’s everything,” said freshman forward Luke van Heukelum. “Since I’m a lefty like just little things like getting the ball on my left foot compared to my right, getting the ball in behind at certain spots. I think that’s what can create a big difference.”
Maryland Men’s Soccer has struggled to score this year, but that may be turning around. Maryland has scored in each of its last four games and Tuesday’s game against Villanova provided plenty of offensive fireworks.
The Terps scored six times Tuesday night, their largest total since last season’s 6-1 victory over Virginia. Stefan Copetti and Kimani Stewart-Baynes led the way with two goals apiece. Van Heukelum and Bjarne Thiesen each contributed a goal.
“I think the last couple of games, it’s been quite sharp,” said head coach Sasho Cirovski. “You can see that the ideas of where players are going to move, the pace of the passes, the support angles are all so much better than they were early in the year.”
The offensive performance sparked the Terps offense after starting the season slowly, notching just three goals in their first four games. The slow start was understandable considering the new editions.
Three of the four goal scorers from Tuesday’s win are new to the program. Thiesen came to Maryland after three years at West Virginia. Stewart-Baynes and van Heukelum are both freshmen. The Terps added 11 new players to a squad that returned only four starters from a year ago. New people means new relationships, and those take time.
“Besides Stef up top, who’s only a second year player here at Maryland, everyone else [is] either a freshman or a sophomore. So it’s a relatively still young group, that cohesion in the attack takes longer,” said Cirovski.
The team has continued to work on it every day at practice and by going through video, Cirovski said. The relationships, while bolstered in practice, don’t just form and materialize on the pitch. Time spent together off the field is just as vital to the cohesion Maryland’s offense desires.
“We have X amount of time on the field, but definitely off the field and just hanging out together and not even talking about soccer necessarily; just having laughs in the locker room and going to the dining hall or hanging out at the apartment all together,” said Copetti. “Just enjoying each other’s company is even more important than, you know, what we do on the field.”
Copetti is leading the Maryland offense with four goals and is just behind Stewart-Baynes for the team lead in points. The senior forward is leading in more ways than just his play.
Copetti was a newcomer in College Park last season, spending his time learning from his teammates. That perspective, plus the lessons he learned in leadership last season, have helped him transition into a new type of role.
“Kind of learning from them and their leadership and implementing it to all these young guys as best as I can and kind of giving them advice when I see, you know, they’re down or you know they miss a chance and their head goes down,” said Copetti. “And try to pick them up and continue to give them that belief and that confidence is kind of my role this year.”
The freshman have answered the call to the tune of seven goals. Stewart-Baynes and van Heukelum both have scored three. Kenny Quist-Therson has one score.
“You just got to be confident in yourself as a striker, and you got to be confident in your abilities and work with the other guys and make the most of it,” said van Heukelum.
Maryland won back-to-back games for the first time this season, beating non-conference foes Bowling Green and Villanova. The offense accounted for 22 shots on goal and 7 goals in that span, and those relationships in the attack are producing at the right time.
Maryland sits at the bottom of the Big Ten standings with a conference record of 0-4-2 and just two points to its name. The Terps have three more games on the schedule, two are against Big Ten opponents. The relationship’s evolution faces a massive test during a crucial stretch of the season.