Maryland men’s soccer’s new-look defense bounced back in home opener

By: Eddie Hobbs

Last season Maryland was the top team in the country for most of the year. The Terps had one of the most explosive offensive teams on all facets and their defense was just as good, if not better.

The backline featured Alex Crongale, Suli Dainkeh and Chris Odoi-Astem. Crongale was the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year and the Big Ten Tournament Most Valuable Defensive Player. Dainkeh was a second-team All-Big Ten selection and Odi-Astem made the first-team All-Big Ten. That doesn’t even include Cody Niedermeier, the Big Ten Goalkeeper of the Year winner.

But all those players graduated last spring and head coach Sasho Cirovski has been tasked with filling the vacancies on the defensive side of the ball.

This isn’t coach Cirovski’s first go around with trying to fill vacant positions due to graduation — Cirovski is just months away from the 25th anniversary of his hiring in 1993. He is still in his position because he has made the right decisions over the years.

The men’s soccer team started its 2017 season on the west coast to face off against Santa Clara. The new defenders who started for the Terps in the season opener were Miles Stray, Johannes Bergmann, Chase Gasper and George Campbell, who played midfield and forward last year. Maryland won the game handily, 4-2, but the one weak spot for the team was its new backline.

Santa Clara scored quickly, just three minutes into the game. After a foul around the box, Santa Clara got a set piece. The ball was hit into a crowd around the goal, and after the ball failed to be cleared by Maryland, Santa Clara’s Brandon Gillingham collected the ball and put the ball past goalkeeper Dayne St. Clair. The Terps allowed Santa Clara to have nine shots with six of them on goal.

After the performance from the defense against Santa Clara last Friday, Cirovski wanted things to change. He saw just that on Monday night against Hofstra in the Terrapins’ 2-0 shutout win.

“We wanted to get better defensively,” Cirovski said. “We challenged our guys, we worked on a few things. I thought we had an outstanding performance defensively. You saw the backline coming together, but we also got a lot more help from the midfield and forwards today.”

Cirovski only made one change on defense from the Santa Clara match to the Hofstra match — he inserted Donovan Pines into the starting line up and took out Stray.

Maryland’s backline looked dominant against Hofstra. After the first half Hofstra didn’t even have one shot and it finished the match with three shots, just one shot on goal. The new backline played the whole 90 minutes of the match. Hofstra couldn’t get anything going and it all started with the new addition of Pines. 

“I consider both Miles and Donovan two starters on this team,” Ciroviski said. “We’re going to see them both play significant minutes. It will vary from game-to-game based on matchups and other factors. But they are both outstanding players.”

It isn’t surprising that coach Ciroviski made the change, since Pines has the same build as Crognale, last year’s defensive star. Both are lengthly 6-foot-5 athletes, and it certainly makes a difference to have someone of that size playing on the backline.

While Maryland still has question marks about its defense and how they will perform this year. The Terps can certainly build off the game on Monday night against Hofstra. With No. 15 UCLA coming to Ludwig Field on Friday night, they will need to be clicking at every position to continue their undefeated start.