The newly installed LED lights at Ludwig Field illuminated the playing surface brighter than ever on Thursday night for Maryland men’s soccer’s season opener against USF.
And for the freshmen on coach Sasho Cirovski’s roster making their college debuts, those lights must have shone all the brighter.
Midfielder Malcolm Johnston admitted to feeling nervous upon entering in the first half. But as the freshman became more comfortable, he got more confident. And in the 70th minute, Johnston scored the lone goal of the Terps’ 1-0 win, and celebrated in front of the raucous student section for the first signature moment of his Maryland career.
“That’s why they come to Maryland,” Cirovski said. “So that they can enjoy these moments that very few places give them in this country.”
After Johnston headed midfielder Eli Crognale’s corner kick into the back of the net, he stood poised at the side of the net to absorb the admiration of “The Crew,” the devout supporter section of Maryland soccer positioned directly behind the goal.
“That was one of the best feelings I’ve ever felt in my life,” Johnston said. “Looking at the Crew, all of them cheering us on, I mean, you can’t ask for more than that.”
Before the season, Cirovski highlighted the depth of his roster as a potential strength of the team. An injury to midfielder William James Herve in the 12th minute tested Cirovski’s belief earlier than expected. Johnston was one of the players rotating into the match to offset the loss of Herve, the team’s top returning scorer.
Johnston played 29 minutes in the first half, being substituted out when the teams returned to the field after halftime. But Johnston knew he had a chance to return to the field, so he stayed ready for the moment when he would be called upon again.
In the 66th minute, Cirovski summoned Johnston from the bench. Four minutes later, Johnston delivered.
“[Cirovski] has told me that there’s going to be times in the game where he needs me. So throughout the game, I’m always getting ready to jump in whenever he needs me,” Johnston said. “Just being that role player for the team is what I’m here to do, and I’m happy to do it.”
The Canadian earned a spot in the rotation early in his career with a standout preseason, including a goal in Maryland’s de facto dress rehearsal scrimmage against North Carolina five days before the season started.
“Malcolm coming through with a moment of magic was worthy of the kind of preseason that kid’s had,” Cirovski said. “He’s had a great mentality. He’s been terrific.”
The Terps now shift their attention to a ranked matchup with No. 12 Virginia on Monday. Audi Field, the home of Major League Soccer’s D.C. United, will be the venue for the regional rivalry for the second straight year.
The 2018 matchup ended in a scoreless draw after neither team could break through the opposing defense in 90 minutes of regulation or two 10-minute overtime periods.
The latest installment of the storied rivalry, at an MLS stadium, places the first-year players on another big stage. But with Johnston’s score, Crognale, a captain for the Terps team on Thursday, hopes the newcomers have heightened confidence that they can make significant contributions for more marquee moments.
“It’s huge for [Johnston], and it’s huge for the entire freshman class and the newcomers to step up,” he said. “Hopefully it raises everybody’s confidence to step up in the bright lights and perform.”