"It's great to be back at the College Cup. I feel this is where our program belongs," said Maryland head soccer coach Sasho Cirovski addressing the media on Wednesday. "In a memorable match against Georgetown last year we fell short on PKs. Patrick and I said after that game that we set a goal to come back and we're proud to be the only team back from last year's College Cup," he added.
When you reach the final four of any NCAA Tournament, you expect to face quality opposition. You don't necessarily expect to face a familiar conference foe. However, such will be the case for the Maryland Terrapins men's soccer team when they face the Virginia Cavaliers in the second semi-final at PPL Park in Philadelphia Friday night. The meeting will be the third match up for the squads this season with the Terps holding a very slight advantage. After playing to a 3-3 tie in Charlottesville back in October, Maryland edged Virginia 1-0 scoring an own goal to take the ACC Tournament championship.
Lest you think these teams aren't evenly matched, please reread the last sentence of the first paragraph. The teams have scored one goal in the last 173 minutes of competition between them and that was the own goal scored in the ACC Championship game when a Patrick Mullins cross caromed off Kevin McBride's leg in the eighty-eighth minute.
The Terps come in with the seventh best attack in the NCAA averaging 2.08 goals per game. The Cavs rank fifteenth scoring 1.91 goals per game. Virginia has a decided edge in goals against average yielding just .94 goals per game to Maryland's 1.17. However, after a bit of a shaky start to the season, Maryland head coach Sasho Cirovski seems to have found the right combination of defenders to play in front of a maturing Zack Steffen in goal as the Terrapins have yielded only four goals over their last ten games - all wins.
If the game plays out along the same general pattern of the first two contests, fans should see contrasting styles with the Terps looking to attack while the Cavaliers look to find space on counter-attack. Cirovski thinks the game will blend the first two matches. "I think you'll see a different game from the first two. The first time we played them I think there were five goals in the first seven minutes and six goals in twenty-seven minutes. The game at Germantown was a tough game. Both teams used different kinds of energy on Friday. Our game with Clemson was a very physical draining game. In their game, they were down by two and had to use a lot of energy to come back and force the game into overtime. Both teams were exhausted on Sunday. It was a survival contest. This week both teams will be fresh so I think you'll see something in between."
Look for Jake Pace (6 goals) and a surging Michael Sauers who has scored three of his five goals in postseason play to supplement the dynamic duo of Patrick Mullins and Schillo Tshuma for the Terps. For the Cavs, though they don't have a scorer as electric as Mullins, their scoring is a bit more balanced than Maryland's with ten players on their roster registering two or more goals. The Cavaliers are led by Eric Bird (#11) with seven goals and Darius Madison (#9) with six.
Maryland is making their second consecutive appearance in the College Cup and eighth overall under Cirovski. "It's always special to get to the College Cup," said Mullins. "But I think our approach this week is to look at it as just another week at work against an opponent we know well," he added. "We want to make sure we don't get off to a slow start." If they do, Cirovski believes in the ability of his squad to bounce back. "This team has shown tremendous resiliency over the year. The number of times we've come back to tie - the number of times we've come back and won has been remarkable."
Freshman goalkeeper Zack Steffen echoed Mullins when asked about facing the Cavaliers for a third time. "I just try to take it as another game. Virginia is obviously one of our biggest rivals but we just have to go at it like it's another game."
The Terps will be looking to capture their third National Championship under Cirovski having taken the crown in 2005 and again in 2008. The Cavaliers also have quite a programmatic pedigree having won six titles with the last coming in 2009.
If the weather forecast holds, the teams will square off on a night that will be, in a word, cold though no one on the Terps believes that will be a factor. The current predictions call for a daytime high of 33 and an overnight low of 19. The game is scheduled for a 7:30 kickoff Friday night following the first semi-final in which Notre Dame will take on New Mexico.