Paul Bin had been in Amar Sejdic’s position before.
Just weeks removed from returning to the United States after spending a year playing soccer in Holland, Sejdic began scouring for a high school team. One visit took him to Utah’s Real Salt Lake Academy, where he was the unfamiliar face.
After the first training session, Bin, a South Korean native who ventured to play in England and the U.S., approached Sejdic and introduced himself, and a friendship was born.
“It’s definitely hard to adjust to an organization or a team where you literally know no one,” Bin said. “I’ve felt that multiple times, and I wanted Amar to feel welcomed because I thought that if he felt comfortable, he’d perform unbelievably well for our team.”
Sejdic never forgot Bin’s gesture.
“When you go into a new environment like that, especially in the soccer world, people kind of see you as competition,” he said. “They think you’re there to take somebody’s minutes away. I feel like Paul kind of put that in the past and saw a new kid who was coming into a different environment and didn’t know anybody.”
Sejdic and Bin’s friendship has continued to blossom at Maryland, where they anchor the No. 11 seed’s offense heading into Friday’s NCAA tournament semifinal against No. 2 seed Indiana (20-2-1) in Santa Barbara, Calif., at 10:30 p.m. Unseeded Akron (14-6-2) and Michigan State (14-4-4) will meet in an earlier semifinal at 8 p.m.
Sejdic, a senior midfielder, leads the Terps (11-6-4) in goals with seven and points with 15. Bin, a junior forward, ranks second on the team in points with 11 and is tied for second in both goals (four) and assists (three).
Both play critical roles, according to coach Sasho Cirovski, who characterized Sejdic as the traffic cop who directs the offense from the middle of the field and provides a calming presence. Bin, said Cirovski, is the speedster on the wing who can turn defense into instant offense.
“I think they’ve been huge,” Cirovski said. “We knew that with Amar, we had one of the best players in the country, and it took me a little while to get him closer to the goal and get our midfield rotation solidified. Paul has been huge on both sides of the ball for us. We’re a team that presses relentlessly, and he loves to do that. He’s totally bought in. He’s got the energy and the will to play the Maryland brand of soccer. So I think he’s been very important to the way we want to play on both sides of the ball. They couldn’t be more polar opposites, but they really complement the way we want to play.”
Cirovski tabbed Sejdic as a potential recruit when he was a sophomore growing up in Louisville, Ky. And it was Sejdic who tipped off Cirovski to Bin during their playing days at Real Salt Lake.
The two lived with four other soccer players in an on-campus suite for one semester in 2015, creating a mini United Nations between Sejdic (Bosnian), Bin (Korean), forward Sebastian Elney (Haitian), midfielder Cody Albrecht (American) and defenders Aaron Franco (Peruvian) and Diego Silva (Argentinian). Bin became famous (or infamous, depending on your perspective) for his obsession with the video game “League of Legends” and his habit of leaving clothes strewn all over the suite. Sejdic was the “dad of the room” who prodded his suitemates to avoid being late to classes and practices.
Their friendship deepened even further in 2016 when Bin left the university for a year and returned to Seoul because of a bout with depression. Sejdic maintained a line of communication despite the pair being 14 time zones away from each other.
“The biggest thing for me was Paul didn’t necessarily open up that much about his struggles, and I felt kind of guilty in a way that I didn’t make myself open to him, to make him feel comfortable to tell me what was going on,” Sejdic recalled. “I felt that he just needed a hand reaching out to him.”
Bin called Sejdic “a rock in that time period for me.”
“There were only a couple guys that really had faith in me, and he was one of those guys that always told me that I was going to come back and come back stronger,” Bin said. “I’m just so forever grateful for that, and I’m here now because people like him had faith in me.”
In their second season together since Bin’s return, Bin is now one of the more popular figures in the locker room (“Everybody flocks to him when they want to laugh or smile,” Sejdic said proudly.), and the duo has rediscovered their chemistry. They both agreed they have an unspoken communication, and Sejdic said he does not even have to look up to find Bin because he knows where the forward is going to be.
Friday’s 1-0 win at No. 3 seed Kentucky in the quarterfinal round was an example of their synergy. About 25 yards from the net, Bin one-touched the ball to Sejdic, who sent a through ball to Elney for the finish from 18 yards away in the 29th minute.
“Paul started off with the ball, played it to Amar, then Amar played a great ball, and I just took a touch to the far post,” Elney said. “I just think the relationship we all have with each other is really what allowed it to happen efficiently and almost effortlessly.”
Said Cirovski: “If you watch that play, you can sense the relationship they both have out there on the field. Paul made a great run down the middle, and the ball came to him. Amar was in a great support position, he laid it out perfectly, and Amar slotted Sebastian for the game-winning goal.”
Sejdic and Bin are eager to help spark Maryland to the NCAA final Sunday at 8 p.m. for what would be the program’s first appearance in the title game since 2013. But no matter what happens, both agree that their relationship will continue to remain strong.
“I’m definitely going to be inviting him to my future house, and he’s always going to have tickets with his name on them when I’m a professional,” Sejdic vowed.
Said Bin: “I’ll be supporting him all the way in whatever he does.”
NCAA Division I men’s soccer tournament semifinals
Here’s what you need to know about the Maryland men’s soccer team’s semifinal game Friday.
No. 11 seed Maryland (11-6-4) vs. No. 2 seed Indiana (20-2-1)
When: Friday, 10:30 p.m.
Site: Meredith Field at Harder Stadium, Santa Barbara, Calif.
Series: Indiana leads, 4-2-7
Team leaders: Goals: Maryland senior midfielder Amar Sejdic (seven); Indiana senior defender Andrew Gutman (11)
Assists: Maryland senior defender Chase Gasper (five); Indiana redshirt senior midfielder Trevor Swartz (15)