The Generation adidas team was settling into its seats last Saturday at the Estadio Bernabéu, getting set for an extra-special treat during its two-week trip to Spain: Real Madrid vs. Valencia, in the flesh. As Cristiano Ronaldo & Co. took the field for warm-ups, the MLS youngsters were starting to get giddy.
Everyone, that is, except for Peri Marosevic and Jeremy Hall. They were nervous wrecks. Some 3,800 miles away, their alma maters were deadlocked deep into overtime in College Park, Md., with a spot in this weekend’s College Cup on the line.
Hall’s University of Maryland has been to the NCAA’s soccer final four plenty of times. Marosevic’s Michigan, however, was flirting with uncharted territory. Here both players were, about to watch one of the greatest and most expensive assemblages of talent in the world on display, yet neither could relax while the outcome was still in doubt.
Minutes later, MLSsoccer.com videographer Scott Riddell yelled down the row with an update for the anxious duo: Fábio Pereira had scored a golden goal in the 104th minute. Michigan was going to its first-ever College Cup. The Terps were staying home.
“I started pumping up my arms,” Marosevic recalled to MLSsoccer.com over the phone this week, giggling while reliving that moment. “I look over at Jeremy and his head was down. I’m grinning ear to ear.”
Marosevic gloated the whole rest of the game. Even as Ronaldo bagged a brace for los Blancos, the FC Dallas striker was thinking “Go, Blue!”
You can forgive him for being on cloud nine. All of the Gen adidas team feels a deep connection to the colleges where they played, and their Spain trip has included a lot of flag-flying and smack-talking as the NCAA Tournament has progressed.
Marosevic’s Michigan knocked out Sean Johnson’s Central Florida in the second round. Until last weekend, Stefan Frei and Andrew Wiedeman were cheering on their Cal Golden Bears, while Amobi Okugo was behind his UCLA Bruins. Teal Bunbury’s Akron is also into the College Cup.
All of these players are young enough that their college days are barely behind them, and former teammates are still donning their school uniforms. So their school spirit isn’t a big surprise.
Marosevic, however, may have a little deeper of an argument. For one, he’s the only Michigan alum in all of MLS. The short explanation for that is, amazingly, at a sporting dynamo like the University of Michigan, the varsity soccer program is only in its 11th season.
Marosevic’s three years spent in Ann Arbor were truly part of the Wolverines’ soccer infancy, and it’s not at all a stretch to say the Bosnian-born forward is a big part of the reason Michigan is finally on the college-soccer map.
He led the team in scoring in all three seasons, and his 24 career goals in maize and blue rank third in program history. His sophomore year was one of Michigan’s most successful, in which the Wolverines reached the Sweet 16 of the tournament – the furthest they’d gone since a quarterfinal run in 2003.
More than anything, however, the 21-year-old has watched his old college coach Steve Burns – the only coach in varsity history – build a competitive program from scratch in the shadows of dominant football, basketball and hockey programs.
“He tells them straight on what the game plan is for the season,” said Marosevic, who still talks with Burns often. “With a young team like he fielded this year, he brought it together quickly. They have a lot of really good young players who, elsewhere, could have developed big egos. But he keeps them humble. That’s one thing he stresses.”
This current Michigan team still has a handful players with whom Marosevic played – including senior stalwarts Jeffrey Quijano and Alex Wood.
But the engine comes from its youth, particularly in Pereira and brothers Soony and Hamoody Saad. They’re perhaps the standout names on a roster that contains nearly all underclassmen – 15 out of 24 are sophomores and freshmen.
Marosevic says he’s dazzled by how quickly they came together. Since being spanked by Akron 7-1 back in October, the young Wolverines put together a nine-match winning streak that included their first-ever Big Ten Tournament crown. That’s when Marosevic started believing.
“I knew [success] was going to happen eventually,” he said. “But with this young group, I did have my doubts. Once I watched a few games on TV, I saw what those kids could do and I knew they’d do well in the tournament. After they won the Big 10 Tournament, I started to believe they could do something really special.”
Michigan is, not surprisingly, a big underdog in its rematch with powerhouse Akron on Friday’s semifinal in Santa Barbara, Calif. Marosevic knows this, and even though he’ll make a friendly wager with Gen adidas buddy Bunbury, he’s hesitant to put too much weight in the big game.
But he knows something else: Michigan is close to joining the college elite. Pretty soon he won’t be the only alum in MLS.
“We’re on our way,” he added. “We’re not just a football school anymore.”
Jonah Freedman is the managing editor of MLSsoccer.com. “The Throw-In” appears every Thursday.