One of my biggest regrets of my undergraduate days was that I didn’t get into soccer sooner. I attended the University of Maryland from 2001 to 2005, and looking back, I would have loved to have the 2005 National Championship winning team be a part of my life. The list of players that lifted the College Cup on that team is just ridiculous – Maurice Edu, Graham Zusi, Chris Seitz, A.J. DeLaGarza, and of course our very own Marc Burch and Stephen King. Despite living within walking distance of Ludwig Field, I never attended a soccer match while I was going to school in College Park.
And so as it stands, I attended my first Maryland Men’s Soccer match yesterday. And I may not have gotten to see Edu or Zusi, but at least I got to see the greatest Terrapin forward since Taylor Twellman.
Senior forward Casey Townsend put on an absolute showstopping performance in the Terrapins’ 4-0 win over the West Virginia Mountaineers in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Townsend’s hat trick helped propel No. 5 Maryland to the next round where they’ll face No. 12 Louisville on Sunday at Ludwig Field.
Townsend’s first goal was a lucky one as he gave the Terrapins a lead in the first half when cleaning up a loose ball that the West Virginia goalkeeper failed to collect, but Townsend was in the right place at the right time and deserves praise for his positioning. The second goal showcased Townsend’s speed as he beat the goalkeeper to the ball to finish off a cross from outstanding Maryland midfielder Sunny Jane, but his third goal of the day was the most impressive. After beating an offside trap and finding himself in alone behind the Mountaineers’ backline, Townsend cheekily chipping the ball over the on-rushing goalkeeper. It was like something straight out of Jaime Moreno’s playbook.
In the press conference after the match, head coach Sasho Cirovski called Townsend an "inspirational leader" for the club, and credited the forward with doing much more than just scoring three goals. He noted that Townsend provided a high work rate throughout the match and applied constant pressure up top, causing turnovers and freeing up space to allow Jane and Patrick Mullins to get more opportunities.
Townsend could have gone pro after his junior season, but decided to stay in school to have the opportunity to lift the College Cup. "This is what I came back for," he said.
Assuming he enters the 2012 MLS Draft this January, Townsend is likely to be one of the first players off the board, especially if he continues this strike rate in the Tournament. Townsend boasts 16 goals on the season, and may be the best striker available coming out of college. As a D.C. United fan, I’d love to see Ben Olsen draft Townsend, but it might be hard to see the Maryland forward falling to United at the No. 7 pick in the first round.
Speaking of United, it’s also worth noting that D.C. United Academy product Uwem Etuk turned in an impressive performance for West Virginia while playing on the left wing. The 5’9" junior is aggressive, quick, and helped create a few opportunities for the Mountaineers. I didn’t specifically notice him standing out in defense, but Etuk was West Virginia’s most consistently active attacker. Etuk has experience with the U.S. National Team at the youth level, and could be a potential homegrown signing for United in perhaps another year.