Confident Kassel Leads No. 2 Maryland
Nov. 23, 2010
COLLEGE PARK, Md. - As Matt Kassel lined up to take a free kick from 30 yards out against Wake Forest on October 23, the formidable midfielder's confidence could have easily been shaken. Just minutes earlier, Kassel had missed his first penalty kick of the season - a kick that would have virtually sealed the victory for the Terps.
Instead of lamenting, Kassel quickly redeemed himself by firing a rocket into the back of the net to effectively stamp the Terps' seventh straight victory up to that point.
"He doesn't make a lot of mistakes, but when he does, he has a short memory," said senior Doug Rodkey. "That's one of his best qualities is that he's a confident player."
Behind the unshakeable confidence of Kassel, the second-seeded Maryland men's soccer team (18-2-1) has found itself winners of 14 straight matches as they head into Sunday's NCAA Third Round match against No. 15 Penn State.
In his third season at Maryland, Kassel has been a major reason for the Terps success on the pitch. Coming off of a torn hip labrum at the end of last season, the junior has provided the full package by becoming a true goal scoring threat.
Kassel only accounted for two goals in his previous two seasons combined, but has broken out this season by scoring nine goals along with his team-high 10 assists. According to head coach Sasho Cirovski, Kassel's field presence has grown dramatically as well.
"He always had the leadership skills, but now, as a veteran, he's really taken on a large role on the field to be one of our key organizers," said Cirovski. "He's become the inspirational leader on the field for us."
Playing soccer at the highest level is nothing new to Kassel. The junior arrived at Maryland with a bevy of experience having played with the U-15 and U-18 United States national teams along with the New York Red Bulls Soccer Academy.
"All that helped with my physical growth, my speed of play, and my overall development as a player," said Kassel.
The Bridgewater, N.J., native then chose to come to the University of Maryland for its national soccer prestige and marveled at the thought of playing for a national title contender.
"I chose this school because I knew it was a top program," said Kassel. "And as you've seen and as everyone else has seen, it is a top program."
He was immediately rewarded for his decision to become a Terp as the team would go on to win the national championship in 2008, defeating North Carolina in the title game, 1-0. Kassel played an integral role in the lineup that year providing seven assists, good for second most on the squad.
"My expectations were to come in here and do the best I could and hopefully get on the field and win games and I was fortunate enough to win a national championship," said Kassel. "It was a great feeling and I look forward to doing that again."
With thoughts of one day eventually playing professionally looming, Kassel has high expectations for this year's squad after a disappointing early exit in his sophomore campaign.
"If we don't make it that far [national championship] like we did last year, it's a failure," said Kassel bluntly. "We know what it really feels like to be the last team standing and how exciting and wonderful it is." Cirovski foresees a bright future beyond college for Kassel as he compared the midfielder to some of the great Terrapins of the past.
"I think he's up there with some of the best ones [defensive midfielders] we've had," said Cirovski. "Obviously we've had guys like Keith Beach, Maurice Edu, and recently Mike Marchiano, and he's got a little bit of a blend of all their qualities."
Cirovski believes that Kassel's hip injury may have been a slight bump in the road this past offseason, but a full six months next offseason will help him to become a better player.
"He's got all the physical components -- he's got the soccer brain, he's got the technical ability, he's got the tactical understanding," said Cirovski. "I think it's just a matter of can he catch some breaks."
Kassel and the Terrapins continue their run to the College Cup Sunday when they battle Penn State at 5 p.m. at Ludwig Field. Tickets are available by clicking on the link above.
By Sean Ellenby - Maryland Athletic Media Relations