Sebastian Elney arrived in College Park in the summer of 2015 with sky high expectations as part of one of the top recruiting classes in the country.
Elney, a Boca Raton, Florida native who spent his senior year with the Philadelphia Union Academy and graduated from YSC Academy, was one of seven youth national team players in a class head coach Sasho Cirovski called “the biggest and deepest class in the history of Maryland soccer” at the time.
The Terps have seen plenty of success with that group, even as highly touted MLS academy players like Eryk Williamson, Jorge Calix and Diego Silva have departed, but if it’s possible to be underrated or underappreciated as a team that’s won 52 games over that span, that’s been the story of the Terps this season.
“Usually we’re the big team with the targets on our back and this year we have a little bit different of a role,” Elney said in a phone interview earlier this week. “But results stand for themselves and here we are going to the College Cup.”
Elney’s goal in the 29th minute held up as the winner in last Friday’s quarterfinal in Kentucky.
“When that final whistle blew it was just pure joy, running to everybody and realizing that we were finally heading to a College Cup and we weren’t going to leave the program without attending one,” he said.
While many doubted the team after winning only twice in its first seven games, Elney said the belief was there all along within the squad.
“We trusted the process, we didn’t become startled off by the losses or the ties and we just kept on going, kept on working,” Elney said. “When we played Indiana at Indiana we lost, that was a 1-1 game, they scored with like 15 seconds left. That one hurt us a lot and from there we’ve really taken a step forward.”
The Terps fell to the Hoosiers again on penalties in the Big 10 Tournament final, but will get one more shot at them on Friday night in the second semifinals in Santa Barbara scheduled to kick off at 10:30 p.m. Akron, the lone non-Big 10 team left, plays Michigan State in the earlier semifinal (8 p.m., ESPNU).
One of Elney’s former teammates with the Union, Morgan Hackworth, is back in the College Cup with Akron for the second straight season. Hackworth, who graduated from Strath Haven High School, will be part of his third College Cup after making it there as a freshman with Syracuse.
“It’s always a pleasure to see someone you played with and see them doing well,” Elney said of his former teammate.
Union Academy grad Olu Ogunwale, a freshman at Michigan State, will also be in Santa Barbara along with a trio of former Reading United players on Akron’s roster — Ezana Kahsay, Marco Micaletto and Ben Lundt.
While Elney spent a year in the academy and joined the first team for preseason in 2015, his eligibility to sign a homegrown deal as an already capped U.S. youth international was always in question. Since he left for college he hasn’t been seen much around the club with the exception of a couple friendlies the Terps played against the Union in 2016 and 2017. His path to professional soccer at this point will most likely be the MLS SuperDraft.
“I have some options,” he said. “But I’m not really focusing on that right now; just focusing on the weekend.”