When Andrew Samuels took control of a turnover during Maryland men’s soccer’s Oct. 23 matchup with Penn State, it was nothing uncommon for the center defensive midfielder.
What happened next, though, was unprecedented. The senior one-timed a pass to midfielder Amar Sejdic, who never faced stiff defense before tucking a shot into the back of the net to increase the Terps’ lead to 2-0. It was the first point in Samuels’ four years at Maryland.
Midway through the season, coach Sasho Cirovski switched to a formation that featured two center-defensive midfielders — Samuels and junior Eli Crognale. This created an extra cushion in front of an already stout defense and more attacking opportunities for Sejdic, like the one against the Nittany Lions.
Before the postseason started, Cirovski made another addition. He increased his number of team captains from three to four, handing over a coveted armband to Samuels, who is embracing his leadership role as a senior in his last chance at a College Cup berth.
“I wanted to empower him and reward him a little bit more out there and demand a little bit more from him in terms of his voice on the field,” Cirovski said. “He’s delivered on all accounts, and it’s been a nice reward for him and a good benefit for our team.”
Since Samuels’ promotion, Maryland is 3-0-1, including the two NCAA tournament wins that have given the Terps a date with No. 3 seed Kentucky on Friday in the Elite Eight. Maryland has yet to concede a goal in the NCAA tournament, with identical 2-0 victories over NC State and Duke.
That success is largely due to Samuels, who has hardly been off the field for Maryland soccer in his last three years. He’s played 78 games heading into Friday, and has become an unsung hero and leader of Maryland’s defense.
Wearing the captain’s armband is something Samuels had always dreamed of.
“It definitely means a lot,” Samuels said. “You commit to a team and you really want to be a captain and be a leader one day.”
While he wasn’t an official captain until the postseason, Samuels said every senior on the team wears a figurative captain’s armband, in addition to the four players who don the literal ones.
Samuels is often overlooked for his role in Maryland’s defense. The unit ranks 20th in the country with 0.75 goals allowed per game and has secured 10 shutouts acrossed 20 games, tied for 13th highest shutout rate in the nation.
Samuels has played a large part of that, despite not being solely a defender. Not only has he taken some of the pressure of center backs Johannes Bergmann and Donovan Pines, he’s also allowed Sejdic to take a more active role in the offense.
After tallying nine goals during his sophomore season, Sejdic saw his production dropped off significantly last year, when he scored only three. But the two center defensive midfielder duo have made Sejdic the Terps’ 2018 leading scorer with seven goals on the season, two of them in the NCAA tournament.
“They help me out,” Sejdic said. “They make me feel more comfortable in my position because as an attacking midfielder, I get caught with not having to do much defending because Eli and Andrew do a lot of the dirty work for me.”
That dirty work is Samuels’ primary role on the team, being the first line of defense before the ball even gets to Maryland’s backline. His lone point of his career on the assist to Sejdic isn’t shocking that it came as a result of a defense effort.
The Terps will continue to rely on a player who that might go unnoticed with only one point in his career, but one worthy of wearing the red and white armband throughout his senior postseason and again on Friday night in Lexington.
“He’s terrific. He’s been a great player for us,” Cirovski said. “He’s one of these young men that deserves the recognition late in his career.”