Maryland men's soccer coach Sasho Cirovski has coached college soccer for more than 25 years. He's produced two MAC Hermann Trophy winners and a pair of No. 1 picks in the MLS Draft, and he's spent countless hours watching players he's coached play for national and professional teams.
Despite his wealth of experience, when Terps midfielder Eryk Williamson rocketed a 25-yard screamer into the back of the net during this year's U20 Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football Tournament, Cirovski said he "might've jumped out of [his] chair."
While the score was Williamson's flashiest moment of the offseason, it was hardly the most important. The junior is using his international experiences to help Maryland this fall, where he's contributed a goal and two assists in the Terps' first four games.
"He's showing more leadership this year," Cirovski said. "You see things in training [and] things in the locker room … but it really transcends on the field."
Williamson's score put Team USA up 2-0 on El Salvador in the group stage of the CONCACAF Championship in Costa Rica, which ended in early March. Williamson and the Americans won the tournament for the first time.
"He's capable of those moments," Cirovski said, "and I'm sure we'll see some this year."
Williamson played all six games in Costa Rica and started five. Then, in late May, he traveled to South Korea for the U20 World Cup, making four starts and playing in all five games of Team USA's quarterfinal run.
"You can see [in] Eryk, how he's playing now," forward Gordon Wild said, "when you're playing in those environments it's basically all just business once you step on the field."
Though he scored what Cirovski considered the best goal of the CONCACAF Tournament, Williamson said some of the most useful knowledge he gained was on the defensive side. That experience is especially valuable for a team rebuilding its backline after a painful 5-4 upset loss ended its 2016 season.
"Attacking is just kind of your own creative thing," he said. "But defensively, it's all mental focus and just kind of staying engaged, and that's one thing I can bring back from the World Cup."
Williamson was a standout in his first two seasons with the Terps, combining for 40 starts, nine goals and 11 assists. But Cirovski said there were times the Alexandria, Virginia, native would "take breaks."
"He's not doing that this year," Cirovski said. "He's doing a fantastic job, he can break open a game in a single moment."
In addition, Williamson sometimes assumes a coach-like role for the Terps. When watching film with fellow midfielders, he'll offer his input on their positioning. That's been especially crucial for teaching an inexperienced backline.
Only a few members of the American U20 team still play in college; most belong to professional teams. Now that he's returned to the Terps, Williamson can combine his natural gifts with an improved mindset, making him one of Maryland's most dangerous players.
"He's playing at another level of confidence," Cirovski said. "I'm very proud of his development, and there's more to come."