SBI College Preview: Maryland aiming to leave the ACC as champions

Patrick Mullins

Photo by ISIPhotos.com

By MICAH MCVICKER

The 2013 season is a special one for the Maryland Terrapins Men’s Soccer program.

Not only does the upcoming season mark the school’s 60th anniversary as a member of the Atlantic Coast Conference, but it also signifies the final year that the Terrapins will play ACC soccer, with a move to the Big Ten Conference set to begin on July 1, 2014.

In those 60 years, the school has only seen six head coaches, from the legendary Doyle Royle in the 1950s and 1960s to Sasho Cirovski today, who turned the program back into a national powerhouse since taking over in 1993. Senior Maryland forward Patrick Mullins said there’s a greater emphasis to take care of unfinished business since the 2013 season is the university’s ACC swan song.

Mullins, winner of the 2012 MAC Hermann Trophy, said this year’s team has a big year ahead of them, in part due to realignment.

“We’re excited to kind of close out our era in the ACC,” Mullins told SBI in a phone interview. “We want to go out on a high note. We have high hopes to finish out on top of the ACC again this year because I think that would just be a sweet feeling. I think we have no better way of going out than on top.”

Annually, the Terrapins have high goals. Mullins said every year, the Terrapins aim to win a national championship. Since 2002, the Terrapins have made the College Cup on six occasions, and won the title itself in 2005 and 2008. Those teams have featured many of today’s professional stars including U.S. Men’s National Team standouts Clarence Goodson, Graham Zusi, Maurice Edu, and Omar Gonzalez, as well as Costa Rican international Rodney Wallace.

Last season, the Terrapins ran over the rest of the ACC to take the regular season and post-season crown, but in the College Cup they suffered a heartbreaking defeat in penalty kicks, 4-3, after the scores were level at 4-4 following overtime.

“Last year, we came very close,” Mullins said. “There is an unfinished business to it. But we look at it a little differently this year. This year, we just want to be the last team smiling at the end. We want to enjoy our soccer, we want to enjoy the process of doing it, but at the end, we want to finish the business.”

Entering this season, the program is carrying the No. 3 ranking and No 2. national ranking from College Soccer News and Top Drawer Soccer, respectively, in their preseason polls, as well as the top distinction in the SBI Pre-Season Top 40.

With high expectations on the team as usual, the Yugoslavian-born coach said that last season’s disappointment isn’t on his mind anymore, and that he’s preparing for another tough road ahead in the perpetually-competitive ACC.

“Last year is filed away,” Cirovski told SBI by phone. “There’s nothing we can do about 2012, so we are setting our sights on 2013.

“We know how difficult the ACC is,” he said. “It’s an extremely competitive conference full of national contenders. We’re not going out with any Lombardi speeches. Our goal is to keep getting better every game and to make sure we’re prepared for the challenge of some great teams. Hopefully if we do that, we give ourselves a chance at the end.”

Junior goalkeeper Keith Cardona started 20 games for Maryland last season and looked set to regain his place between the pipes for the coming season as well. However, according to Cirovski, Cardona suffered an undisclosed injury in the preseason and won’t be available to start the season.

Luckily for the Terripins, U.S. Under-20 member Zack Steffen joins the team this season after finishing his residency with the U.S. U-17s in Bradenton, Florida, and can step right in, just as Philadelphia Union goalkeeper Zac MacMath did in 2005.

Following last year’s 20-win season, midfielder Jon Stertzer and defender Taylor Kemp were chosen in the Major League Soccer SuperDraft, while defender London Woodberry signed a Homegrown deal with FC Dallas before the start of the 2013 MLS season.

Forward Jordan Cyrus was supposed to be a fifth-year senior this year but Cirovski said Cyrus’ redshirt year was never filed or approved. Consequently, he has no eligibility remaining and Cirovski must make do without his starting right back.

In addition, Cirovski will be losing sophomore Christiano Francois, who scored five goals last season, including one in Hoover, Alabama against Georgetown in the College Cup. The Terrapins coach confirmed that Francois will be taking a redshirt season this year to focus on academics.

“We’re down with two other high-quality players from what we had last year,” Cirovski said. “We’re still good. We have a good team. We have a very unforgiving schedule at the end of the year. I think we’ll probably take our lumps a little bit, but we’re going to get better and hopefully we make another run again.”

Last December, Georgetown goalkeeper Tomas Gomez ran down the sideline, celebrating his two penalty kick saves to help the Hoyas defeat Maryland in the national semifinal. Mullins called that a motivating factor—at the time.

“I don’t think there’s any sort of revenge factor,” Mullins said. “But definitely for some of the guys, it’s been a memory that’s stuck with us and we want to have a different end result at the end of this year.

“Now, it’s in our rear-view mirror, and we’re focused on this season. It’s a new team. We have new personalities in. We lost some big personalities last year.”

Maryland opens up their season in Northern California, facing the Stanford Cardinal on Friday in Palo Alto and then Cal-Berkeley on Sunday in Berkeley.

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