Maryland men’s soccer will take the pitch indoors at Holuba Hall on Friday at 6 p.m. to start its season on the road against Penn State. The Terps lost this matchup 3-2 in 2019, giving up a halftime lead in State College.
Redshirt sophomore defender Ryan Blumberg and sophomore midfielder David Kovacic are ruled out for the match due to injuries, head coach Sasho Cirovski said.
The season was supposed to start in August, but the COVID-19 pandemic kept most traditional fall sports from starting until the spring. Cirovski’s squad played the waiting game to get their chance to compete.
“It’s been 451 days since we have last played, not that I’m counting or anything,” Cirvoski said.
The Big Ten Conference announced the season schedule on Jan. 19, featuring ten conference matchups followed by the Big Ten Tournament. As the 2021 season is finally beginning, Cirovski is thrilled with his squad from the fall to now.
“The resiliency, the adaptability and the flexibility they showed was incredible,” Cirovski said. “Our players have shown up in terrific shape this month. I was blown away by the form they were in.”
This year’s roster looks different than last year, with some players moving onto the professional ranks and others returning from injury.
Maryland welcomes back senior defender Ben Di Rosa for the first two matches after being cleared to play with the Major League Soccer season being pushed back. Meanwhile, his brother senior defender Matt Di Rosa was not cleared.
New York City FC selected Ben Di Rosa with the 44th overall draft pick in the 2021 MLS Draft in January, while Toronto FC selected Matt Di Rosa with the 25th overall pick in the 2021 MLS Draft.
Forward William James Herve retired in the fall due to lingering injuries and has returned back home to France. However, the Terps are welcoming back senior forward Paul Bin who missed the 2019 season with a torn ACL.
As a junior, Bin started 19 matches with four goals, including two game-winners, and three assists during the 2018 championship season.
“Paul is an incredibly positive guy, and we’ve missed him on the field with his speed and relentless defensive pressing,” Cirovski said.
Bin also returns to the team in a new role selected as one of the team’s captains for the 2021 season, which will come with some adjustments.
“I’ve never been a captain of a team, so it has been a completely new role for me,” Bin said. “I am always going to be that positive guy.”
The team’s other captain is senior forward Eric Matzelevich who received high praise from Cirovski entering the season.
“Eric is Mr. Maryland,” Cirovski said. “What an incredible young man. The hardest worker every single practice and every single game.”
Goalkeeper Niklas Neumann returns to the team after a solid 2019 campaign but must sit out the first three matches due to a compliance issue. There is strong competition for starting goalie as highly regarded freshman Jamie Lowell has impressed, according to Cirovski.
Three 2021 recruits have joined the team early due to COVID-19, Freshman midfielder Henry Hamilton, freshman midfielder/forward Joshua Bolma, and freshman defender Alex Nitzel. The Terps filed waivers for all three to play in the season and Cirovski provided an update Feb. 17.
“Henry Hamilton has been cleared to play, “Cirovski said. “Alexander Nitzel is a day-to-day situation and Josh Bolma has not been cleared.”
The work ethic of the young players has caught the eye of some veterans including junior forward Justin Gielen.
“Our new guys are really dedicated,” Gielen said. “Most of them are staying after practice to get extra touches, extra passes, and extra shots.”
In this unique season in the middle of the pandemic, the Terps face two opponents, the ones on the pitch and COVID-19 off of it. During the fall, the program didn’t have a single positive COVID-19 case.
“We cannot win the College Cup if we don’t find a way to win the COVID cup,” Cirovski said.
When the team faces Penn State on Feb. 19, it will be the first test to pay off all of the hard work.