After clinching the regular season Big Ten Title on Oct. 14, Maryland Men’s Soccer Head Coach Sasho Cirovski said, “to be fair … this is the third most important of the championships we’re seeking.”
The other championships are: the Big Ten Tournament Championship and the National Championship or “the big one” as Cirovski labeled it.
Maryland has since won the Big Ten Tournament Championship, making them two for three on Cirovski’s list. Now, a little over a month later, the Terps have the last championship on their radar: the NCAA Championship.
On Oct. 17, with an 18-0-2 record, the Terps locked-down the number one seed and a first round bye in the NCAA tournament. The Terps will host the winner of the game between Providence and Delaware Sunday at 5 p.m. at Ludwig Field.
Maryland will look for a better showing this year, as last year they made it to the elite eight before losing to Clemson, the eventual runners-up of the tournament, on penalty kicks.
In Maryland’s 36th — and 16th straight — appearance in the NCAA tournament the team appears to have what Cirovski calls “championship fiber.”
Cirovski, the 2016 Big Ten Coach of the Year, has a roster that’s loaded with talent from top to bottom. Seven Maryland players were named to All-Big Ten teams, while many others earned individual honors.
Starting at the back, the Terps are led by Big Ten Goalkeeper of the Year and First Team All-Big Ten Goalkeeper, Cody Niedermeier.
Big Ten Defender of the Year and unanimous First Team All-Big Ten defender, Alex Crognale, anchors the Terps back line.
Next to Crognale are First Team All-Big Ten defender Chris Odoi-Atsem at left-back and Second Team All-Big Ten defender Suli Dainkeh at the other center-back spot.
The defense, despite the undeniable talent listed above, has been the Terps’ Achilles’ heel, as Maryland rank 40th nationally in goals-against-average, allowing 19 goals in 20 games.
Maryland’s defensive woes may be attributed to a lack of tracking back in the midfield, problems defending set pieces and struggling to defend teams that feature quick counter attacks – it will take a unified team effort to cleanup the defensive errors.
At midfield the Terps boast the likes of First Team All-Big Ten midfielder Amar Sejdic, who has 7 goals and 9 assists on the season, and Second Team All-Big Ten midfielder Eryk Williamson, with 2 goals and 5 assists.
Jake Rozhansky and Cody Albrecht, the other usual starters in midfield, each contribute uniquely – Albrecht organizes the team from a deep, central midfield position, while Rozhansky (3 goals and 8 assists) gets forward and links with forwards.
Maryland’s second ranked scoring offense (2.45 goals per game) is led by unanimous Big Ten Forward of the Year and unanimous First Team All-Big Ten Forward, Gordon Wild.
Wild’s 16 goals (0.8 per game) are good for third best in the country. Wild also has six game-winning goals, tied for fourth nationally.
This Maryland team knows how to win close games – its undefeated record includes six overtime or double-overtime wins and 11 one-goal victories.
Perhaps the most unique characteristic of this Terps team is its ability to score goals in a variety of ways.
Whether it’s Crognale’s 6-foot-5-inch presence on set pieces (six goals on the year), Wild’s clinical finishing, Rozhansky and Sejdic creatively unlocking a defense from midfield, or a host of options, like forward DJ Reeves, who possess game changing speed, this team can score in flashes.
Time will tell if Maryland’s high-powered offense can overcome its sometimes-shaky defense to win Maryland Men’s Soccer and Cirovski’s third national championship.