Since being voted the No. 1 team in the country by the National Soccer Coaches Association of America on Sept. 20, the University of Maryland men’s soccer team has continued their impressive start to the season.
The Terps are now 10-0-2, and have won all five games since moving into the top spot. Although head coach Sasho Cirovski has had success before, students are surprised at how well the season has gone.
“It’s a source of pride for everyone that goes to Maryland,” freshman accounting and finance major Justin Whited said, “as far as I know they’ve always been good, but being No. 1 is something else.”
Whited is right. Cirovski has led Maryland to 15 straight NCAA Tournaments, but this is the first time Maryland has been No. 1 in the country since 2012, according to the Diamondback. That year, Maryland went 20-1-3 tournament before losing to Georgetown University on penalty kicks in the semifinals of the NCAA Tournament.
Despite the team’s success this year, Cirovski said he doesn’t have time to think about it.
“The games come so fast and furious, I can’t get caught up in those things,” Cirovski said following the Terps’ 2-0 win over Ohio State Friday night.
Although the Terps were still able to make it to the quarterfinals of the NCAA Tournament last season, sophomore supply chain management major Samarth Shah said there are definitely some differences between this year and last year’s team.
“They play more fluid and with better technique,” Shah said. “They are making better decisions, and last year they didn’t make passes in the final third.”
After averaging just 1.65 goals per game last season, the Terps are averaging 2.42 goals per game this year, tied for second best in the NCAA. One of the main reasons has been sophomore Gordon Wild, who leads the Big Ten with 10 goals after leading the country with 16 as a freshman last season.
“Wild has a move that he has perfected,” freshman chemical engineering major William Ryba said.
Ryba said Wild will move out to the wing and cut either inside or outside once he gets to the 18 yard line and “rip one.” He also said the sophomore could pass it up, but his shots have worked out this year.
The team relied on forward Sebastian Elney at the beginning of last season, and he delivered, scoring six goals in the first nine games. But over the next seven games Elney was held scoreless, and the Terps went just 3-3-1 and scored nine goals.
But with Wild, Maryland has more variation on offense. Sophomore Amar Sejdic has stepped up this year and is now second on the team in goals with five, and junior transfer Jake Rozhansky has added three.
“We’re a lot more versatile this year, whoever’s in the game can make a difference” Elney said, “when we go at teams, they’re just not prepared for what’s coming up.”
Maryland’s defense has been impressive too. The Terps have allowed just .58 goals per game this season, and currently have five straight shutouts, which ties a program record.
After giving up some game tying goals in the second half earlier this season, the backline of Alex Crognale, Chris Odoi-Atsem, and Suli Dainkeh has stepped up recently.
“Without the guys we have out there, we wouldn’t be able to do what we did the last couple of games,” Niedermeier said, “I’m excited to keep working with the guys and get better.”
Cirovski said the defense’s struggles early in the season were a result of five of the six guys playing different positions than they did last season. He said he’s seen progress, but still thinks there is room to get better.
And despite the hot start, Cirovski wants to see improvement. He wants the team to be playing their best soccer in November and December during the Big Ten and NCAA Tournament.
Cirovski was satisfied with Friday’s win, but thought the team could have come out better in the second half. Niedermeier also agrees with his coach, and thinks the Terps will be incredibly hard to beat if they play hard for a full 90 minutes.
Photo by Lauren Anikis