More than ever, Terps look to Sumed

`Rare' player's role pivotal in NCAA soccer title bid

College Soccer

December 12, 2003|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

From humble roots in Tamale, Ghana, Sumed Ibrahim is living the American dream through his immense soccer ability.

The most dashing player on the Maryland men's team receives a second opportunity to totally fulfill that dream beginning today in Columbus, Ohio, when the Terrapins return to the NCAA College Cup in a semifinal matchup against St. John's.

The survivor will advance to the national championship game Sunday against the Indiana-Santa Clara winner.

Maryland (20-2-1) reached this point last year before losing to UCLA, 2-1, with Sumed scoring the team's only goal on a brilliant piece of individual work.

"He's that rare, special player who needs to be on the field even when he's not at his best," said Terps coach Sasho Cirovski. "In the flash of an instant, he can change a game. Very few players I've ever coached have earned the kind of respect he has."

A fifth-year senior, All-American last season, three-time All-Atlantic Coast Conference pick and a semifinalist for the Hermann Trophy awarded the nation's top player, Sumed would be only an interested spectator for Maryland's second-chance appearance but for a fractured right foot that forced him to miss his sophomore season in 2000.

"If it weren't for injury, I would have been gone," he said. `That's the reason why I'm here."

The reasons he selected College Park in the first place are much more heartwarming.

A prep All-American at The Walden School in Louisville, Ky., Sumed was regarded so highly he could have chosen virtually any college in the country.

He visited several others "but I didn't like the places very much until I came here and fell in love with the campus and the program. This school is very diverse with people from everywhere. And the coach was from a different country and [in] the kind of situation I was."

The son of Samata and Adam Ibrahim, Sumed grew up in a poor family with seven siblings. All the children have been expected to work to help support the family and soccer was not considered a suitable vocation. Were it not for the sport, he probably would have become a farmer in Ghana.

In 1995, Sumed and fellow Terrapin Siba Mohammed came to this country to play in the MasterCard Sister Cities tournament in Louisville, where they met Bill and Diana Schmied, who volunteered to become their hosts while they pursued their goal of an American education.

After attending Walden, a small private school, on student visas for a year, the Schmieds became their legal guardians with permission from the boys' parents. Their lives were totally changed.

"We wanted to stay," said Sumed. "Fortunately, the Schmieds opened their hearts and home to us."

When their under-16 club team, Javanon, won the national championship in 1997, the college recruiters started descending on them in droves.

Sumed has developed into an almost-certain two-time All-American, while Siba has enjoyed his share of good moments in a career dotted by injuries.

To amplify why Maryland landed Sumed, Cirovski explained: "We share some commonality. I, too, was living the American dream after spending my first eight years in Macedonia, in a small village, farm-driven, with no hot water or bathrooms or refrigeration.

"There was one car and one TV in the whole village. I'm not going to pretend to understand what Tamale, Ghana, was like, but I think Sumed identified."

It didn't hurt, either, that the Terps had reached the NCAA final four the year before Sumed arrived, or that Maryland recruited both Sumed and Siba as a team.

"We had to beat out the elite to get him [Sumed]," Cirovski said. "Everybody knew he was a program-changer."

With an engaging disposition and modest nature, Sumed is a coach's and teammates' favorite.

"I wouldn't say exactly I can take over a game, but I think I can make things happen with individual talent in certain situations," he said. "I think I'm one who can provide for the club, create chances when we need them."

With Dominic Mediate, the scoring hero of the 2002 run to the Cup, out with a broken collarbone and Abe Thompson battling a foot condition, Sumed's presence is even bigger for the Terps' offense. He is second on the team's scoring list with seven goals and seven assists after a slow start due to a foot injury.

If Maryland is to win its first national title since 1968 (one it shared with Michigan State), Sumed must be in the thick of the action.

Cirovski is confident, especially after this team came from a 2-0 deficit against Saint Louis last week with a four-goal burst in slightly more than 11 minutes.

"We have shown the kind of maturity I'm not sure we had last year," he said. "We're creating more, playing better. All that's left to do is this weekend."

"Last year we didn't know how good we were," added Sumed. `We didn't believe enough in ourselves. Now, we know we can do something special."

College Cup

Site: Columbus (Ohio) Crew Stadium

First semifinal: No. 2 Maryland (20-2-1) vs. No. 6 St. John's (16-5-3), 5 p.m. today, ESPN2

Second semifinal: No. 8 Indiana (15-3-5) vs. Santa Clara (16-3-4), 7:30 tonight, no live TV (ESPN2 tape delay tomorrow, 4:30 p.m.)

Final: 2 p.m. Sunday, ESPN2

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