Justin Gielen was among the record-setting 8,449 fans at Ludwig Field on Sept. 4, 2015, when then-freshman Sebastian Elney scored the game-winning goal for Maryland men’s soccer against top-ranked UCLA in overtime.
He remembers when Elney did it again last season, and ripped off his shirt in celebration for the second time in three years.
The DeMatha Catholic High School graduate was in attendance for the last two College Park meetings between Maryland and UCLA, an annual rivalry that has risen to prominence under coach Sasho Cirovski.
On Friday night, Gielen will have a much closer view of the annual classic as he steps on the field against the Bruins, with Maryland (0-1-2) still searching for its first goal — and win — of the young season.
“I’ve seen the goals that Seb has had, and how hype it gets when you score that goal,” Gielen said. “I’m super excited to take part in it.”
Only about two miles separate College Park from Gielen’s high school, where he scored 52 goals with 22 assists and won numerous awards, including the Gatorade Maryland Boys Soccer Player of the Year as a senior. Playing club soccer for Baltimore Celtic, he scored 59 goals in 42 games, while winning a U-17 USYS National Championship and two state championships.
Cirovski has had a DeMatha alum on his team every year since 2013, including Chris Odoi-Atsem and Cody Albrecht. He didn’t have to go far, yet again, to find a player that could help make an immediate impact on the program.
“My goal since day one here, 26 years ago, was to get the best local talent to stay here,” Cirovski said. “Some years, positional needs mean that we don’t get to keep the best kids, but certainly we needed a striker, and Justin is a striker that can score goals.”
Gielen knew Maryland was the right fit for him due to his home state pride and its proximity to his family and friends. He wanted to be a Terp throughout his childhood, attending basketball and soccer games in College Park because he played both sports at DeMatha.
“During the recruiting process, Maryland just seemed like the most special that I could choose,” he said. “I could go to a different school, but it wouldn’t mean as much to be successful somewhere else.”
The Terps haven’t scored in the first 310 minutes of the season, but Gielen has provided a spark off of the bench, leading the team with six shots and three shots on goal.
If he were to convert one of those chances Friday night, it would be a full-circle moment for Gielen, three years after watching a freshman Elney send shockwaves through College Park against UCLA.
“I know we haven’t scored yet, but Justin will start scoring soon,” Cirovski said. “I have great faith in him. He’s been close a few times and it’s only a matter of time before he hits the back of the net.”