By: Eric Myers
For the ninth time in his 25-year tenure at the helm of Maryland soccer, Sasho Cirovski has guided a team to the pinnacle of collegiate soccer: the College Cup. The 2018 team’s destination is a payoff for the strenuous journey from heartbreak of seasons past to an 0-2-2 start to a spot in the semifinals against Indiana.
“We start 0-2-2, so now we’re at 10 games winless dating to last year. Yet, we showed our resolve, we showed our strength, we showed our belief and now we’re showing our quality,” Cirovski said.
Following a disappointing conclusion to the 2017 season, which saw Albany oust Maryland in penalty kicks at Ludwig Field in the NCAA Tournament to mark the sixth-consecutive loss to finish the year, Cirovski challenged the team’s returning players.
Cirovski challenged the team to reset the identity of Maryland soccer in the first team meeting after the season. In order to getting back to the tough and gritty style that the coach yearns for, Cirovski scheduled what he called “the hardest schedule in the history of college soccer.”
Maryland played a list of perennial contenders in the collegiate soccer landscape to begin their season. Beginning with three ranked opponents– No. 24 Washington, No. 10 Stanford and No. 7 Virginia– before playing their cross-country rival, UCLA, resulted in not only four games without a winning result, but also four games without a goal.
“It’s been a journey,” Sebastian Elney said. “A lot of people talk about the 0-2-2 start, but obviously we’re playing great teams and we got unlucky. But once we found our rhythm, there’s definitely still ups and downs, but we’re here now so that’s what matters.”
The redemption story for this senior laden-team comes in several layers beyond the deficient start to the season, which also included a 476-minute scoring drought. Four years ago, the seniors on the roster endured a difficult loss in penalty kicks at hands of Clemson with a trip to the College Cup on the line.
These fourth-year players were also members of the 2016 team that played to an undefeated record and went to the NCAA Tournament as the No. 1 seed. In their opening-round game against Providence, Maryland staked a 4-1 lead in the 54th minute. What happened next stunned the program and fans at Ludwig Field. The Quakers scored four goals in 28 minutes to hand Maryland their only loss of the season.
“I think definitely with the group of seniors that we have, I think there’s something extra to it and you feel more with this being the last go-around,” Elney said.
Cirovski notices that extra drive in his group of experienced players, but knows that they’re striving for so much more beyond their current position.
“This senior class came within a whisker of being in the College Cup their freshman year,” Cirovski said. “Those kids remembered that and I could see it in their hearts and their eyes and their smiles in Lexington when we advanced, it means a lot to them. But I also know that group didn’t come to Maryland just to get to a College Cup; they came her to win one.”
If this senior class is to advance to the College Cup final against the winner of the other semifinal matchup of Akron and Michigan State, Maryland will have to get past Indiana, the tournament’s No. 2 seed.
Indiana has defeated Maryland twice this season, once in the final minute and once in penalty kicks. Maryland will be looking to avenge those narrow defeats to write yet another chapter of their redemption story.
“Now we have a great opportunity this weekend and we’re playing against Indiana, who on a microcosmic level we have another chance of redemption. And this has been a story of redemption,” Cirovski said.