Alex Nitzl is a staple of Maryland men’s soccer.

The senior defensive midfielder usually leads his team on the field, but he took a different approach to that role during the Terps’ first two games this season. Instead of making an impact while on the pitch, Nitzl found himself influencing his side from the bench.

Nitzl missed Maryland’s first two games due to both COVID-19 and an injury. Watching his team play from the sidelines offered him a different vantage point to the game and his team, a new perspective that enabled him to help push the Terps to their first victory of the season.

“When I’m on the bench, definitely much more nervous than when I’m playing … because you can’t impact [the game],” Nitzl said. “It’s a little bit of a different approach if you’re playing or not playing … for me it was more about like, ‘How can I support the guys, how can I have an impact without, like, physically having an impact.’”

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Instead of influencing the game with a defense-splitting through ball or his “box to box” ability as a midfielder, Nitzl turned to communication to push the Terps to victory over UNC Greensboro last month.

His input helped an especially young team maneuver the challenges that a new season presents. Nitzl saw this and knew how he could help even when injured.

Maryland entered the half in a scoreless tie against the Spartans, its third consecutive half without a goal to open 2023. The Terps needed a spark to break out of their stagnant offense. It came from their captain.

“Motivating people on the field [is] about, like, ‘Alright guys, we need energy,’” Nitzl said. “But then it also, can be super instructional about, like, ‘Hey, I’m seeing from the bench, there’s this guy open, and we have to solve this problem.’”

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Putting the ball in the back of the net was the Terps’ primary problem last month. From the sideline, Nitzl saw things that he wouldn’t have noticed if he were playing.

“When you’re in the game, it’s not easy to see because, again, you’re in the game,” Nitzl said. “A lot of things around you are happening, but when you’re on the bench, you actually can take that step back and see things.”

Nitzl communicated his findings at halftime and throughout his team’s battle with UNC Greensboro, and they worked after the intermission. The Terps scored twice in the final 45 minutes, courtesy of Joe Suchecki and Kimani Stewart-Baynes in a 2-0 win.

Nitzl’s combination of inspiration and information helped the Terps secure their first win of the season despite being without their captain on the field. He’s a player the Terps can turn to for his leadership no matter the role.

“He’s really like a coach on the field. He knows how to solve problems,” coach Sasho Cirovski said. “But he’s also a great locker room guy … he is the first guy to serve the players.”