It took Maryland men’s soccer a while to find some stability in the net in the 2019 season. Coach Sasho Cirovski pitted mercurial Atlanta United product Russell Shealy against German Niklas Neumann, with the two exchanging minutes for the first few games. By September 13, though, Neumann had the spot nailed down after back-to-back solid performances.
The German went on to start 18 games in his maiden season in College Park, keeping 10 clean sheets and garnering an all-Big Ten second team slot in the process. Shealy transferred to Syracuse at season’s end, with the spot firmly in Neumann’s reliable hands for the foreseeable future.
But things are now changing for the Terps. Neumann returned to central Germany last Spring, and began training with his old club, third tier side KSV Hessen Kassel. And now his stay is being made permanent, as Neumann is signing a one-year contract, the club announced via Twitter August 2. The deal was later confirmed by a Maryland spokesperson
Niklas Neumann kommt zum KSV zurück Die Löwen freuen sich, dass mit Niklas Neumann ein Bekannter im Löwendress wieder nach Nordhessen zurückkehrt. Der 21-jährige Neumann ist im vergangenen Jahr zum Studium in die USA aufgebrochen. Niklas Neumann spielte bei den Maryland Terr… pic.twitter.com/lWxfrVkkIW
— KSV Hessen Kassel (@KSVHessenKS) August 2, 2020
Neumann was a crucial part of a promising slew of youth for Cirovski’s squad. Although he took some time to adapt to the American game, he eventually became one of the best keepers in the Big Ten. His impressive resume — highlighted by a few professional appearances in Germany — translated well into the NCAA.
And his end of season stats backed up the quality of performance. Neumann tallied 62 saves at a 79.5% clip while making 18 starts. He also delivered his best performances on the biggest of stages, notching seven saves in a road thriller against Penn State. He also denied Indiana a season-high eight times in the Big Ten Tournament.
Perhaps most importantly, though, Neumann made very few errors of judgement between the sticks. While Shealy made costly mistakes against Northwestern and UCLA, Neumann proved to be a more reliable and solid presence.
He was expected to expand on that should the 2020 season play out as expected. Instead, the Terps are forced to look elsewhere. Highly-touted Seattle Sounders academy prospect Jamie Lowell appeared to be Neumann’s heir-apparent for this season — but will now likely inherit a starting role.
The incoming freshman arrives in College Park with some professional experience, having made two appearances for USL Championship side Tacoma Defense. Lowell’s 6 foot 5 frame makes him an imposing presence in the net, but he’s also proved himself a good distributor at the academy level.
Still, starting a true freshman — who won’t turn 19 until after the 2020 season — is a daunting prospect for a Maryland side that will look to compete with the best in the nation once again. And without Neumann’s safe hands, stability may yet be an issue.