And so after three soccer seasons at UCLA — where as a freshman he had scored a sudden-death goal in an NCAA tournament semifinal and become one of the top left-sided defenders in the country — Gasper decided late last spring to transfer back east.
“I implored him to stay,” his father Courtney recalled, “but God bless Chase, he said he’s focused on the family.”
This summer, well after most scholarships were distributed and rosters assembled around the country, Chase landed at Maryland, which had been a finalist for his services when he graduated from D.C.’s Gonzaga High School in 2014.
The NCAA does not require soccer transfers to sit out a year, clearing him to play right away for the Terrapins, who are 2-0-0 and ranked No. 2 in the country by Soccer America magazine. A medical redshirt last season left him with two years of eligibility.
On Friday, less than four months removed from UCLA, Gasper will reunite with his former coach and teammates for a home match between the Terrapins and No. 13 Bruins (1-0-0) at Ludwig Field.
In shuffling from one powerhouse to another, Gasper did not lose program status. And in returning to the area, he gained proximity to his father, a former backup quarterback at Ohio State who is stricken with small fiber neuropathy (SFN), a condition that causes severe pain attacks.
“It takes a huge weight off my shoulders,” Chase said. “It feels so much better to be close to home.”
Courtney, 53, was diagnosed five years ago. The illness affects small nerve fibers throughout the body, resulting in tingling, numbness, burning and, in his case, persistent pain from chest to toes. He is no longer able to work as an IT executive.
What does SFN feel like? Imagine wiping out on a skateboard while not wearing a shirt or shorts and skidding across the pavement — except the pain never subsides.
There is no known cure. Painkillers help, but the affliction saps energy and tests willpower. “It has turned my life upside down,” Courtney said.
Chase not only will see his family much more often; his family will be able to watch him play in person regularly. (His father is able to attend games.) In the past, his parents would identify the longest stretch of UCLA home matches and book a long-term stay. Only on occasion would the Bruins come east.
Chase’s decision to play at UCLA was unusual for an East Coast kid; elite prospects from this side of the country typically land in the ACC, Big Ten or Big East. Most UCLA players are from California.
He initially committed to Virginia, but with a desire to explore a different part of the country, he considered UC Santa Barbara before signing with the four-time champion Bruins.
As a freshman, he played in 20 of 24 matches, starting 16 and recording two goals and four assists. In the NCAA tournament, he scored against Cal in the third round and, 15 minutes into overtime against Providence in the semifinals, his 20-yard deflected volley lifted the Bruins into their first national final since 2006. Two days later, they lost to Virginia in a penalty-kick tiebreaker.
The following season, Gasper started 18 times but suffered an injury in which the left groin muscle detached from the hip bone. Surgery sidelined him seven months.
Last season, a month after returning to regular activities, he said he “pushed too hard too soon” and severely strained the same groin as well as the abdominal oblique muscle. After three games, his year was over. The injury occurred early enough in the season that he was able to redshirt and save a year of eligibility.
While sitting out the spring exhibition season, Gasper grew increasingly concerned about his father, who was having a rough time.
When finals ended, he said, “I called my parents, we had a long talk and I decided it would be best to come back.”
Aware of Courtney Gasper’s condition, UCLA Coach Jorge Salcedo said he knew Chase might someday want to leave.
“We’d spend a lot of time talking about school and life and family,” Salcedo said. “It was a difficult situation all around. He’s a young man who cares about his family, and I wanted to do what was best for him.”
Said Chase: “He gave me his blessing.”
Maryland was at the top of his list. He also explored the possibility of transferring to Georgetown or North Carolina, but without much scholarship money available anywhere, Maryland was most affordable.
“The minute he told me what was going on in his life, I knew we were the right place,” Maryland Coach Sasho Cirovski said. “We have a great group of guys and a coaching staff that would help him and his family through a difficult time.”
During the process, Gasper consulted with Terrapins midfielder Jake Rozhansky. They had played club soccer together for the Olney Rangers, an elite travel team featuring about a dozen Division I recruits, as well as Arsenal prospect Gedion Zelalem.
Gasper and Rozhansky (Montgomery Blair High) had faced one another in the 2014 NCAA final; Rozhansky played for Virginia before transferring to Maryland last year.
“He was asking about Maryland and how it seemed like a place that would fit him: the location, the style of play,” Rozhansky said. “I knew he would be happy close to home.”
Soon after Salcedo granted Gasper’s release request, the UCLA coach had a long phone conversation with Cirovski, who, in a gesture of gratitude, offered to hold Gasper out of Friday’s meeting between the teams.
“It was nice of him to offer, but I wanted to put Chase first,” Salcedo said. “I’d rather have him in blue and gold, but I try to think of him. A college career is a fleeting opportunity and I didn’t want to take any of it from him.”
On Friday, three families will embrace Gasper: his Alexandria clan, the Terps and the Bruins.
“It’s going to be an odd feeling because I have a great history with those guys,” he said of UCLA. “We all love soccer, we’re all going to compete the hardest, but at the end of the day, they are all my friends, my family. It’s going to be a good one.”