After Siba Mohammed scored his first goal as a member of the Maryland men's soccer team, he ran to his teammate, Sumed Ibrahim. The two faked a high-five, leaned over as their hands passed and grabbed each other's opposite foot as it came off the ground.
Maryland senior Jason Cropley was not sure what he was watching.
"I've seen a lot of crazy goal celebrations, but never anything like that," Cropley said.
It was one example of the way Mohammed and Ibrahim -- two freshmen born in Ghana -- bring a unique dimension to the Terrapins, who are 6-1 and ranked No. 1 in the nation by Soccer America.
"They are unpredictable, exciting and very instinctive," Coach Sasho Cirovski said. "We've seen some things from these two kids that have electrified not just the crowd, but our own team. Sometimes at halftime, I hear my players talking about the move Sumed used to beat three guys or the touch that Siba made to set up a goal."
Mohammed scored his first goal for Maryland just before halftime of a 5-2 victory over Butler in the second game of the season.
"It was a bicycle kick," Cirovski said. "He took a cross down on his chest with his back to the goal and bicycled it. He didn't get all of it, but it made its way into the side netting."
That Mohammed even attempted such a maneuver hints at his remarkable skill level. Yet growing up in Tamale, Ghana, neither Mohammed nor Ibrahim was encouraged by his parents to pursue his dream of playing professional soccer.
"My parents never saw me play soccer," Mohammed said. "Most people I tell here don't believe me. . . . My father didn't want me to play, but we would sneak away and play sometimes."
Said Ibrahim: "Our families in Ghana are very poor, so every child is expected to help the family survive. You have to be working. Soccer is not considered a way to make money there."
Ibrahim and Mohammed first visited the United States in 1995 to compete as guest players in the MasterCard Sister Cities soccer tournament in Louisville. Their community church in Tamale raised the necessary funds.
When the pair expressed interest in staying in the United States to get an American education, Billy and Diana Schmied volunteered to host them. Ibrahim and Mohammed lived with the Schmieds while attending The Walden School, a small private institution in Louisville, on one-year student visas. With written permission from the boys' parents, the Schmieds obtained legal guardianship in 1996. While the Schmieds helped them learn English and overcome cultural barriers, Ibrahim and Mohammed graduated from high school in four years.
"These kids are so naive," Diana Schmied said. "When they first came here, they had to learn how to use the indoor bathroom facilities. They played in one tournament where players on the other team used the `N-word' and they asked us what it meant. . . . They are so happy to be here. To them, it's like they've won the lottery."
In 1997, their club soccer team, Javanon, won the under-16 youth national championship in Arizona and soon after, college coaches began flocking to recruit the two Ghanaians. The pair said they chose Maryland over the other soccer powerhouses such as Indiana, Virginia and St. Louis partly because of its diverse student body and proximity to Washington, D.C., which has a large Ghanaian community.
Ibrahim has started all seven of Maryland's games as an attacking midfielder and has one assist. Mohammed has yet to start, but has two goals and two assists. Their style of play often produces passes that go one way while teammates go the other.
"They grew up in a very unstructured soccer environment," Cirovski said. "They have never really been coached in the principles of the game, and they are still learning their defensive responsibilities."
But their flashes of breathtaking skill are just one benefit to the program, according to Cirovski.
"They bring an element of humility and joy to every practice and every game," Cirovski said. "Their background is so compelling; they are an incredible success story. They appreciate all that they have every day. I think for some of our players who grew up in comfortable surroundings, it helps them be more thankful."