CHESTER, Pa. – The first time Virginia faced Maryland this season, the Cavaliers couldn’t stop Terrapins striker Patrick Mullins, who erupted for a pair of goals in a 3-3 draw. So the next time the two long-standing rivals met – in the ACC Tournament championship game last month – Virginia coach George Gelnovatch decided to do everything in his power to slow down Mullins.
And it worked … for a while.
“The guy who’s been killing us is Mullins,” Gelnovatch said as his team prepares to face Maryland – for the third time this season – in the NCAA College Cup semifinals Friday at PPL Park (7:30 pm ET, ESPNU).
“As a team, we’ve just got to be cautious of it and do a better job. But in the ACC tournament, for 88-plus minutes, I think we did a great job. And he got away from us for a split second in the last two minutes of the game and ended up having a hand in the winning goal.”
Virginia shouldn’t feel too bad about their issues with Maryland’s star senior striker. There aren’t many teams that have been able to thwart the offensive production of Mullins, who ranks third all-time in career goals at Maryland with 44. This season he’s logged 16 goals and eight assists for a nation-leading 40 points, and was recently named a finalist for the Hermann Trophy, an award given to college soccer’s best player and one he claimed last year.
But despite all of his individual accomplishments, Mullins has never won a national championship. What would it mean for him to cap off his sterling collegiate career with one?
“It would be huge,” Mullins said. “I would be so happy for the progression of the team this year. I think it would mean everything for the guys. I think we’ve worked hard and deserve to be here. I think if we keep doing what we’re doing, we’ll put ourselves in the position to get what we all want.”
What the Terps want, of course, is to win a national championship – which is the goal every year for a program that’s made eight trips to the College Cup in the last 15 years, winning titles in 2005 and 2008.
It’s a harsh reality but Mullins’ career, for better or worse, might not seem complete without a national crown.
“The expectations for Maryland are borderline ridiculous,” said head coach Sasho Cirovski, who’s led the Terps to at least the Sweet 16 in each of the past 12 seasons. “I still remember the first time we got to a College Cup it was a massive celebration. Now everyone expects us to get to the College Cup.”
Despite what happens this weekend at PPL Park, Mullins will almost certainly be one of the top picks in the 2014 MLS SuperDraft, if not the overall top pick. He might even keep playing at PPL if the Union can get their hands on him with the No. 2 pick and opt to go in that direction.
But that’s not something Mullins is thinking about just yet, and he isn’t using his last College Cup as any kind of professional audition.
“You always want to play well,” he said. “And if you do that, everything will fall into the right place.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at email@example.com.