Editor’s Note: “What If Maryland” is a segment we’re going to be doing this offseason where we look at pivotal moments over the past ten years at the University of Maryland that could have altered history had things gone differently. It will be painful, but it will be great. Props to Art Ferrer for starting the initiative
Dec 9, 2012; Hoover, AL, USA; Indiana Hooisers players hoist the NCAA soccer national championship trophy after defeating the Georgetown Hoyas 1-0 at Regions Park. Mandatory Credit: Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports
On December 7, 2012 in Hoover, AL, the Maryland Terrapins faced off against the Georgetown Hoyas in the College Cup Semi-Finals. Maryland spent most of the 2012 season ranked #1 in the country after starting off preseason #3. This was one of Sasho Cirovski’s better soccer teams, lead by eventually MAC Herman Trophy winner Patrick Mullins. The expectations are always high for the men’s soccer team in College Park, since Sasho has built a powerhouse that is expected to compete for a national championship ever year.
Maryland dominated the regular season, and moved up to #1 in the rankings by week 5 (Sept 17-23). Maryland was undefeated at this point, with a lone draw to UCLA (2-2). They had knocked off ACC opponents Boston College, North Carolina State, and Virginia Tech, along with California and UMBC. Through eight games Patrick Mullins had 3 goals and 6 assist, while first team All-ACC player John Stertzer had 5 goals and 1 assist.
On October 12, 2012 Maryland traveled to preseason #8 Duke, who had been struggling for most of the season. Maryland defeated the rival Blue Devils 2-1 in Durham to continue their undefeated season. The following Friday, #1 vs #2 faced off in College Park when the Tar Heels came to town. On an extremely wet night, fans were treated to a great contest. North Carolina and Maryland battled not just each other but the elements as well. The start of the second half was delayed due to rain, and postponing the match was even discussed. The match continued, and remained scoreless until the very end. With less than 2 minutes left in the game, North Carolina Junior Robert Lovejoy was taken down in the box and awarded a penalty kick. Surely this was the end of Maryland’s undefeated season. Maryland goalie Keith Cardona saved not only the penalty kick, but a follow up shot as well to preserve the scoreless line. With seconds left on the clock, Patrick Mullins hit the post on the games final attempt. In extra time, a Mullins shot was redirected by freshman Schillo Tshuma past the keeper for the game winner.
A week later, the Terps drew to Clemson 2-2 on senior night in College Park. They then picked up their first loss of the season in Winston-Salem to Wake Forest 4-2. Maryland ended the regular season 14-1-2 before heading into the ACC Tournament. In the second round of the ACC Tournament, Maryland’s senior class avenged the 2-2 draw to Clemson with 2-1 victory, and beat North Carolina again to win the ACC Tournament Championship. Maryland had two players finish on the All-ACC First Team, four players on the All-ACC Second Team, two players on the All-ACC Freshman Team. Patrick Mullins was named the ACC Offensive Player of the Year, and coach Sasho Cirovski was named ACC Coach of the Year for the third time.
Maryland defeated Brown, Coastal Carolina, and Louisville on the way to their first College Cup apperance since winning the title in 2008. Their opponent in the Semi-Final game was local rival, Georgetown. The Hoyas went 15-2-1 in the regular season lead by All-Big East First Team player Steve Neumann. In the Big East Tournament they lost in penalties to Notre Dame in the championship game. Georgetown needed double overtime to get by Syracuse in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, before beating San Diego to reach the College Cup.
Maryland scored the first goal of the game, but Georgetown bounced back with 3 straight goals including two within a minute of each other. Maryland got one back in the 59th minute, but Georgetown pushed it back to the two goal lead at 4-2. The final 17 minutes of the game featured the attacking style Terrapins at their best. While they were desperate to not leave Alabama early, they were playing at their best, which is generating chances and attacking at will. Mullins scored in the 74th minute and Christiano Francois leveled the game in the 77th minute. Georgetown was hanging on for dear life in the remaining ten minutes and for most of the two overtime periods. The game went to penalty kicks, and Georgetown advanced winning 4-3 after missing their first kick.
This brings us to the what-if portion of this post. Lets say, in the closing minutes of regulation, while Maryland has an onslaught of opportunities, Patrick Mullins finds the back of the net and Maryland advances to the final. In the championship game, Maryland would have squared off against the #16 seed and last team to get a bye in the first round, Indiana. The Hoosiers struggled throughout the season, finishing conference play with a 3-2-1 record. Their last 5 games of the season included one win, three losses, and one draw, while being bounced from the Big Ten Tournament in the first round. There is no such thing as a lock, especially in a championship game. But for the veteran Terrapins, getting a struggling Hoosier’s team would have been ideal for a championship game.
What does a National Championship mean for Maryland soccer? A fair point to bring up, Maryland has won two National Championships in Sasho Cirovski’s 20 years as the head coach. Despite losing in the Semi-Finals, Patrick Mullins still went on to win the MAC Herman Trophy and John Stertzer would have still be taken 12th Overall in the MLS Superdraft to Real Salt Lake, with Taylor Kemp going 5 spots later to DC United seventeenth overall. They were the two lone seniors, and the only players to enter the MLS Superdraft.
The 2012 Terrapins soccer team would have gone down as Sasho’s best team had they won the championship. Sasho’s two other championship teams finished with at least 3 loses on the season. Sasho called the 2008 team “The Gold Standard”, but the 2012 team would have been his only team to win the ACC Regular Season, ACC Tournament, and NCAA Championship, the college treble. With only one loss and three championships under it’s belt, this would have become the new “Gold Standard” of Maryland soccer. It’s impressive to think about what a team has to do to elevate themselves on the pitch at Maryland. The only thing left for Sasho to do would be to go undefeated and win the college treble, had the 2012 Terps won it all. Sasho took over the program in 1993 and won three games his first year, 20 years later he would have lost only 1 game, won the treble, and coached the MAC Herman winner, pretty remarkable turnover.
Then comes the Patrick Mullins question. We’ve settled that Mullins would have won the MCA Herman Trophy, but would he have returned to Maryland? Patrick Mullins was seen as high as seventh overall to FC Dallas in one mock draft before he announced his decision to stay at Maryland. Many MLS teams are interested in Mullins, and were shocked to hear of his decision to return to school for his senior year. The only thing left for Mullins to accomplish on the pitch is to win a National Championship. With his decision to return to school, this is now the expectation. Mullins has won the ACC Regular Season, ACC Tournament, ACC Offensive Player of the Year, and MAC Herman Trophy, but winning the National Championship elevates Mullins to arguably the to upper echelon of players in Maryland Soccer history. If he wins all of this as junior, I doubt he returns to Maryland. Mullins would be risking injury and a guaranteed contract. Don’t get me wrong, the average MLS Salary that Mullins is missing out is little when compared to what Alex Len could be earning, but it is still guaranteed money.
Mullins isn’t the only player with the potential to leave school. The other two players seen in MLS mock drafts were both seniors (Kemp and Stretzer) and both of them were taken in the MLS Superdraft. But without Mullins and the championship in hand, there might have been a player or two who leaves early. This is all speculation, but in all collegiate sports, there are some players who leave championship teams early to cash in on the success of that team. With how well Sasho recruits and the consistency of his programs, I’m not sure how likely it would have been for a player to test the uncertainty of professional soccer instead of pursing a college degree.
As it stands now, Mullins and most of the 2012 squad return for another run at the College Cup. Joined by the #3 recruiting class, and with the pain of last seasons loss, the bar is high. The 2013 Terrapins may not be returning champions, but they will certainly draw the attention of everyone they face. The season starts with re-matches of the 2-2 draw to UCLA and the 6-0 win over California, but this time on the West Coast. All eyes will be on Patrick Mullins as he chases his spot in Maryland soccer history.