By Emily Olsen
Coach Sasho Cirovski sat smiling on a stool in the film room of the University of Maryland’s varsity house when a call interrupted him. The call was from one of his former players who wanted to establish a scholarship or some kind of player recognition to add to the university’s soccer program.
With 17 former Terps currently playing in the MLS, phone calls like this are common for the 23-year-veteran head coach.
“We have developed a very professional environment here,” said Cirovski. “The demands for excellent performance are extremely high in all aspects of your life.”
On Feb. 2, 2015, President Obama honored the LA Galaxy at the White House for its 2014 championship season. Three former Maryland Terrapins—AJ DeLaGarza, Omar Gonzalez and Robbie Rogers—played on the winning Galaxy team.
Midfielder Rogers talked about the differences between MLS championships and the 2005 College Cup championship, which he helped Maryland win.
“Winning a college championship like that is very innocent and pure,” said Rogers. “You know you’re not getting paid, but it’s a great experience.”
Rogers and Gonzalez said Maryland is home to special college team memories. The two players won college championships in 2005 and 2008, respectively.
“It’s just great to get back in this area,” said Galaxy defender Gonzalez. “Hopefully in the next couple of days I can go back to the University of Maryland campus, take it all in and think about some of the memories I have there and hopefully see Sasho.”
Cirovski has created a family atmosphere within Maryland’s soccer program, an atmosphere that continues even after the players have moved on to the next step of their careers.
“It’s an overwhelming sense of pride when you see the players at the very highest levels of the game, knowing that part of their development occurred under your watch with the Maryland name,” said Cirovski. “I feel like a proud papa.”
Players like Gonzalez, Rogers and DeLaGarza have kept in contact with their college coach.
“The neat thing about these kids is they are Terps for life,” said Cirovski.
Current Maryland players said that Cirovski constantly emphasizes the idea that once you are a part of the Maryland men’s soccer team you are part of a special community that will support you throughout your life.
“He harps on that sense of family,” said center back Alex Crognale. “He’s obviously our coach, but he’s also like a father figure in the way he mentors us and supports us.”
Maryland players have experienced success at every level. Midfielder Graham Zusi and Gonzalez played on the U.S. Men’s National Team last summer during an admirable World Cup run.
Current Maryland midfielder Mael Corboz transferred from Rutgers before the beginning of last season to be a part of the prestigious Maryland program. He said he watched Zusi during the World Cup and took special note of how he handled free kicks.
“When a guy like Graham Zusi plays I make sure I watch and try to see what he does,” said Corboz, who scored the winning 2014 Big Ten Championship goal off a free kick. “He’s really good at free kicks and I like taking free kicks.”
Other connections between former and current players are more obvious. Crognale and current Maryland defender Chris Odoi-Atsem, Cirovski said, are his current Gonzalez and DeLaGarza.
“Omar [Gonzalez] is a big tall center back and I’m the same way, so I look to him,” said Crognale. “Whenever LA Galaxy is playing I’m always watching what he does and what I need to improve on.”
Gonzalez even paid a visit to Crognale’s dorm in the past, which humbled the alumnus’s counterpart.
“It was a big deal,” said Crognale. “I definitely look up to those guys, especially with all of the success they had here.”
Odoi-Atsem has a close connection with his MLS equivalent even though they have never met. Odoi-Atsem and DeLaGarza both grew up in Maryland.
“He’s a guy from Maryland who is a little small for the center back position, but still fights everyday and works hard to get better,” said Odoi-Atsem. “I remember him when I used to go to the summer camps and now I’m in the same position he was in back then.”
The Maryland family does not just support players on the field , but is also there for players during tough times.
Last year DeLaGarza and his wife lost their son Luca after he suffered complications with Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome. To show support, the Maryland team wore Luca Knows Heart shirts during warm ups.
“Even though I’ve never met AJ it still feels like he is really close to me,” said Crognale. “That touched our whole team and it really brought us all together. It was this sense of family that the Maryland soccer community has.”
The team reached out to DeLaGarza to let him know they were there to support him and will continue to be there in the future.
That dual sense of community in the Maryland soccer program is part of the reason players have had so much success after college.
“It’s important for the younger guys. If some of us can make it pro and come back and show that we still support Maryland; that we didn’t forget what got us there,” said Corboz. “It’s important and a big inspiration for guys like us when those pros come back and see us play.”
Whether it’s being honored at the White house for winning the MLS Cup, representing the United States in the World Cup or winning a Big Ten Championship in front of the Crew, soccer at the University of Maryland is more than titles.
“My goal was to build a culture that was going to be very nurturing, very family oriented, bigger than just winning championships,” said a beaming Cirovski. “I think we have achieved that.”