This year, Maryland men’s soccer had a banner regular season. The Terps went undefeated for the first time since 1968, and have now held the No. 1 ranking since Sept. 20.
But since a 2-0 win over Ohio State University on Oct. 7, it hasn’t been smooth sailing. The team has won all of its last six games by one goal, and has had to come up from behind in three of those wins.
“It’s hard for any team to have a perfect season much less alone play a perfect game,” senior environmental science and technology and Crew president Josh Nichols said.
“I think we’ve been fortunate enough that our mistakes haven’t resulted in losses, but I think it’s natural for the quality of play to flux throughout a season.”
Sasho Cirovski’s squad has looked more vulnerable down the stretch, especially on the defense. After tying a program record with five straight shutouts in a win at West Virginia on Oct. 10, Maryland has allowed a goal in their past five games.
“We’ve got some great attacking talent, but history shows you that as you get in the playoffs the teams that are stingier on the defensive side of the ball advance the furthest,” Cirovski said.
In its two national championship seasons in 2005 and 2008, Maryland allowed just four goals in ten postseason games, including four shutouts in five postseason games in 2008.
Despite giving up two goals in the first twenty minutes Sunday against Michigan, the 24th year coach thought the defense played pretty well, but still made enough mistakes for them to correct in practice this week.
The Terps have also not started the same backline over the past four games, with starters Chris Odoi-Atsem and Alex Crognale both missing games. Redshirt goalie Cody Niedermeier said that although he’s looking forward to having the defense at full strength, the past few games have shown the unit’s depth.
“Through training we test all different types of situations with guys in different spots,” Niedermeier said. “Especially at this point in the season when we’ve cycled so many guys I feel like we have a chemistry between any lineup we put back there.”
Maryland’s depth was tested even more this past Sunday against the University of Michigan, as three starters missed the game due to food poisoning. But unlike the past few weeks, when the Terps have had only two or three days in between games, they will have had one week in between last Sunday’s match and this week’s Big Ten quarterfinal match to recover.
“We’ve been looking forward to this for a while,” Cirovski said when asked about the time off in between games. “Two of our better performances this year, we had five, six, or seven days of preparation.”
The last time the Terps had this much time off was when they had seven days to prepare for Northwestern on Sept. 30, and crushed the Wildcats 4-0.
Crognale agreed that the time off is important, as the team has full time to recover and prepare for a game, which they couldn’t do during the regular season.
Despite the team’s slip ups, the Big Ten Defender of the Year and team captain expects the team will come ready to play in the weekend, since they know what’s at stake.
“If you lose, you don’t get to come out next week and you don’t get to play another game. As a team, we realize it’s do or die for these tournaments,” Crognale said.