Maryland men's soccer midfielder Eryk Williamson had no clue he was about to become an internet sensation.
He didn't even know his name was circulating online until about an hour after the U.S. U20 men's national team's 2-1 win over El Salvador on March 3. There was weak phone service at the stadium.
But when Williamson returned to his Costa Rica hotel, his phone blew up.
He had texts from friends and family. Then, he checked Twitter and Instagram, where people were sharing his volley from outside the box that had rifled into the top-left corner of the goal.
Williamson's teammates teased him, saying his strike should be on ESPN. Later, one of them saw a video of the shot on SportsCenter's Top 10 plays.
The eye-catching goal was a highlight of his experience playing in the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football U20 Championship in Costa Rica, where he started six of seven games and helped the U.S. win its first-ever championship in the tournament. After traveling between London and Maryland, he flew to Japan on Wednesday to begin training for the FIFA U20 World Cup as part of the 21-man U.S. roster.
"Eryk just keeps surprising me every day I see him, and I wonder how he's still in college," American U20 coach Tab Ramos said. "He has [some] of the softest feet that I've seen with the National Teams in the last seven or eight years, and that's something that I value a lot."
Last season with Maryland, Williamson recorded three goals and five assists, helping the Terps to an undefeated record before they lost in the second round of the NCAA tournament. As a freshman the year before, he tallied the most points on the team (17) during the Terps' elite eight run.
In January, Williamson was invited to participate in the U.S. U20 national squad's camp, and he was one of five college players named to the CONCACAF tournament roster the following month. So, he took the spring semester off to gain international experience.
But the U.S. lost to Panama in the first game of the competition.
Williamson and his team adopted a one-play-at-a-time mindset, similar to how the Terps approach the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments. Plus, he accepted a smaller role than what he holds with Maryland and D.C. United Academy.
The changes helped the U.S. win six consecutive games and defeat Honduras in the championship. One of Williamson's most memorable moments came in the U.S.'s 4-1 victory over Haiti, when the 5-foot-10, 150-pound midfielder assisted on a goal.
"In college, you can kind of get away with things here and there," Williamson said. "At this level, one mistake can lead to a goal and that can be the game. Whether it's running back or tracking back one defender off a corner … it's all the little small details."
But Williamson said the main difference between international and college play is the faster pace. Teams are only allowed three substitutions per game on the national level, while college clubs are granted unlimited replacements, which can slow contests down.
"For the type of game that we play internationally, it's difficult to prepare yourself by getting subbed in and out that many times," Ramos said, "and I think that happens to a lot of college players."
Williamson pulled his hamstring in the final game of the international tournament and returned to College Park on March 7. He rehabilitated with Maryland's coaching staff while watching the Terps' practices and spring games.
During that span, the Alexandria, Virginia, native brought the lessons he learned overseas back to College Park. He explained to the Terps what competing on a national level is like and assigned teammates skills to work on.
While Williamson is headed for his next international competition, which will take place in Korea Republic from May 20 until June 11, watching the Terps' spring game against the Harrisburg City Islanders on April 19 made him eager to return to Ludwig Field this fall.
After all, after Williamson netted the blast against El Salvador, he ran toward the corner flag post and knocked it down, a celebration similar to the one he performs after scoring for the Terps.
"The most exciting part is kind of taking the experience here back into Maryland," Williamson said, "and raising the level."