With four minutes to go in overtime, UMBC men’s soccer forward Taylor Calheira received a pass in front of goal, took one touch to his left past a recovering Howard defender and the charging goalkeeper and buried a shot in the back of the net. Game over.
The play was the result of a beautiful, lightning-quick counterattack that took just seconds to complete.
The goal sealed the Retrievers’ third overtime win of the season, all of which have been settled by a Calheira goal. UMBC, which is 7-6-2 entering play Oct. 23, has yet to lose a game in the extra period (3-0-2) with two regular-season games to play.
The Oct. 6 victory was emblematic of the Retrievers’ 2021 season. In the extra period, when legs begin to drag and fatigue sets in, Pete Caringi’s team takes its play to another level.
“Everyone’s tired on the field; a lot of guys played 90 minutes. You can be exhausted, you can basically make a mistake that’s going to cost you or you can actually play a little bit harder,” said Caringi, who is coaching in his 31st season. “I think that’s a mentality that I’m very proud of. When we get into overtime, we’re very confident that we’re going to be the one that gets that one opportunity.”
Calheira, a sophomore midfielder and forward, has been at the center of that success. Through 16 games, the Concordia Prep graduate has notched nine goals, tied for 10th in the country. Five have been game-winners, tied for second best. He also has five assists.
The young goal-scorer attributed his success to Caringi giving him the confidence to take those shots late in games when they’re most needed.
“When it comes down to overtime, the next goal wins. You just want to be the person to put the ball in the next and win the game,” Calheira said. “Obviously, it would be nice to win games in normal time but it’s always great to win in overtime.”
Calheira’s late heroics have helped buoy a squad hampered by injuries. The team’s captain, senior defender Jordan Ehart, was injured at the start of the year. Calheira’s front-line partner, sophomore forward Spencer Hanks, has also been sidelined with an injury. Senior goalkeeper Quantrell Jones missed nine games in the middle of the season before returning this month.
In his sophomore season, Calheira has blossomed into the player his college coach — and his father — expected him to become.
Calheira’s father, Adauto Neto, a former Baltimore Blast player who enjoyed a long professional indoor and outdoor career, also coached Calheira at Concordia. His son’s rise has been no surprise to the Brazilian-born Neto, who brought Calheira and his other son, Ryan, to Blast practices and put a soccer ball at his feet as soon as he could walk.
“From the moment he was 3 or 4 years old until they started to play for the first time … that allowed me to be there all the time to support him and being a coach when I needed to be a coach and being a dad when I needed to be a dad,” Neto said. “I am very proud of him. Not just as a soccer player, but as a human being.”
A four-year varsity forward for Concordia, Calheira earned Baltimore Sun All-Metro honors in 2019 and was part of two MIAA B Conference championship squads.
During his junior year, Calheira visited his father’s native Brazil and played against professional players, an experience he described as being much different than his prep career but critical in helping him develop as a player.
“I was able to grow as a soccer player and as a person in general,” Calheira said. “And just got some new experiences playing with different players that definitely helped me come here as well.”
As a senior in 2019, Calheira applied those lessons he learned in South America and imposed his will on the MIAA. He led the area with 33 goals, including 11 multi-goal games.
The COVID-19 pandemic delayed Calheira’s freshman season until this past spring when the team was able to play a shortened eight-game season. Calheira scored two goals and led the team with 26 shots, 16 on goal.
Caringi described last season as the most difficult of his career. But he credited his young team, led by Calheira and a crop of other freshmen, for making the most of a bad situation.
In his college debut against George Washington Feb. 23, Calheira scored the game-winning goal in double overtime on a volley from outside the box. Calheira tore off his shirt and ran to the middle of the field to celebrate with his team.
“Scoring the first goal, you can tell from the video I was so excited and so happy to get the win,” he said. “And to get my first college goal — in the moment, I just kind of hit it. It was one of the best feelings.”
The victory marked Caringi’s 300th career win since he took over the program in 1991. The milestone victory was less important than his young players getting to experience a big win so early in their careers.
“It is kind of neat that a freshman who — I think by the time he’s done will be able to play at the next level and will have tremendous success — in his first game can score the game-winning goal,” Caringi said.
Caringi, who coached for 10 years at Essex Community College before heading to UMBC, has seen a lot of talent pass through his locker room.
Calheira, he said, might be one of the best.
“He’s a really good player and is going to be a great player,” Caringi said. “I’ve been here long enough to see the really good ones, and the great ones, and I think he’s going to fall in that great category by the time he’s done.”
Photo Credit: Ian Feldmann