COLLEGE PARK — To get a sense of the affinity between Maryland men's soccer forwards Patrick Mullins and Jake Pace, look no further than the teams they root for in football.
Pace, a Columbia native who pulls for the Washington Redskins, said his second favorite NFL team is the New Orleans Saints. Mullins, a New Orleans native, supports Washington when it's playing against anyone but the Saints.
In fact, the seniors' first memory of each other is when Mullins attended a Super Bowl party at Pace's home in February 2010.
"The first memory I have is when the Saints won the Super Bowl," Mullins recalled. "I'm a huge Saints fan, and we had a Super Bowl watch party at Jake's place, and I was a little excited because my team won."
Said Pace: "I was like, 'This guy seems like a nice guy. He could definitely become one of my friends.' So I introduced myself to make sure we knew each other, and we started hanging out. He obviously turned out to be a nice guy and a lifelong friend, which is pretty sweet to have."
Along with becoming close off the field, Mullins and Pace have been critical in the No. 5 Terps capturing a share of the Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season title and earning the No. 1 seed in the league tournament. Maryland (10-3-5 overall and 7-1-3 in the conference) will play host to No. 8 seed Boston College (7-8-2, 4-6-1) in a tournament quarterfinal on Tuesday at 7 p.m. at Ludwig Field. The semifinals will be held later this week at the Maryland SoccerPlex in Germantown.
Mullins — last year's winner of the Hermann Trophy, soccer's version of the Heisman — is tied for second in Division I with 14 goals and ranks second nationally with 35 points. Pace, who has played 16 games but started just one, is tied for second on the team in both goals (five) and points (11).
Both have made a lasting impression on the program and coach Sasho Cirovski.
"Jake's just an awesome competitor," Cirovski said of the River Hill graduate. "Grew up in Maryland, loves the state, loves the program. Has always been a guy who if you give him 10 seconds, it's going to be the best 10 seconds you're going to get. If it's 30 minutes, you get 30 minutes of great effort. He's really endeared himself to the players, the coaches, the fans. I can tell that as soon as I send him to the scorer's bench to put him in, there's a buzz with The Crew [Maryland's student fan group]. They're all excited for Jake to come onto the field, and he always gives us a spark.
"Patrick is just a special person," Cirovski continued. "He came here a semester early and knew that he didn't have the greatest environment in Louisiana and wanted to get started, and he's really flourished. He was the ACC Rookie of the Year, and I don't think he started a game for us that year. He's won just about everything, and he's going to go down as one of the all-time great players in the history of Maryland soccer."
Mullins and Pace have factored together on just one goal this season, but both say they have an unspoken understanding when they're on the field at the same time.
"Pat's really good at knowing where I might flick the ball, and we kind of work off each other well," Pace said. "Pat also knows that if somebody plays the ball to me, Pat knows that I want to lay it off to him so that he can go or get it out wide. It's going to come from a combination, and we've got to work off each other to make it happen."
As strong as their friendship is, Mullins and Pace acknowledge that they have a competitive streak with each other. Each tries to beat the other in basketball, racquetball, swimming and a game they invented called baseball/golf, in which they use bats to launch balls at certain landmarks and features around campus.
And their competition extends to soccer.
"I'm not sure if Jake knows this or not, but there are a lot of times in practice when I'm pushed because Jake's doing so well," Mullins said. "It's kind of like having that person pushing you and saying, if you're not at the top of your game, then he's going to be right after you, trying to push you and be that top guy. I think we push each other in that way. It's a good competition, but there are definitely times when we look at each other and we say, 'I'm tired of that guy scoring more goals than me.'"
Still, the friends are each other's most vocal supporters. Cirovski related a story from the summer.
"Pat came up to me a little bit before preseason started and said, 'Sash, let me talk to you. The leadership group has spoken and we'd like to make Jake a tri-captain,'" Cirovski said. "I said, 'Great. I couldn't agree more.' It just shows you the amount of respect that Jake has garnered within this program."
Mullins and Pace want to play soccer professionally, but if those plans fall through, Mullins would like to use his double major in American studies and communications to do public relations for a sports organization. Pace, a former state champion in wrestling, wants to parlay his kinesiology studies into becoming a strength coach.
They are also aware that there will come a time when one or both may have to move out of the area. But that won't affect their friendship.
"I think we just want the best for each other, and if that takes us to different ends of the world or different ends of the country, we're alright with that," Mullins said. "We know we're going to remain good friends no matter what."
ACC men's soccer tournament
(Tuesday, 7 p.m., at home sites)
No. 8 Boston College at No. 1 Maryland
No. 7 Duke at No. 2 Notre Dame
No. 6 Virginia at No. 3 Wake Forest
No. 5 North Carolina at No. 4 Clemson
Friday at SoccerPlex in Germantown, 5:30 p.m. and 8 p.m.
Sunday at SoccerPlex in Germantown, 2 p.m.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun