Disappointing. Unhappy. Unacceptable. Frustrating. These are words that those who have followed Maryland men's soccer thought were not in Coach Sasho Cirovski's vocabulary. Or, if they were, they were words no one expected to hear him use in describing his team's performances. Yet these are the words that have come up time after time as the Terrapins have reached the midway point of the regular season with a 3-4-2 record.
Sometimes you picture me, I'm walking too far ahead
Before the season started pundits, coaches, and other presumed experts looked at Maryland and saw a team that had back to back College Cup appearances, reached the championship game in 2013, and returned eight (or nine) starters from that squad. They ranked the Terps second nationally and named them the odds on favorite to win the conference championship in their first season in the Big Ten.
To bolster their opinions, they thought of a squad that had bowled its way through the ACC Tournament with three consecutive shutouts and that passed through the wringer of the NCAA Tournament giving up only three goals in four games leading up to the title game. Perhaps they saw Maryland's youthful attack and thought, "Yes they've lost 64 percent of their goal scoring and yes, they're young but their defense can carry them through until the offense finds its footing." Perhaps what they overlooked was Maryland's need to replace the heart of it's leadership on and off the field.
In the aftermath of Tuesday night's loss to 11th ranked Georgetown, Cirovski had this to say, "It's a very frustrating loss. This was an important game for us to get a result and we just didn't have enough quality in the attack to get one behind a very good defense. We competed hard and we went toe to toe with them. I thought it was a fairly even game. One one counter we fall asleep and they get a fast break and that shouldn't happen. We have too much quality and too much experience and at some point our guys are going to have to raise their level and show that they understand what it means to put on the Maryland jersey.
"Tonight was disappointing. This was a missed opportunity. They've been challenged and we'll see how they respond."
Caught up in circles, confusion is nothing new
Here's where Maryland's offense stands after nine games. At least three players, including Brandon Allen who scored Georgetown's lone goal in their win at Maryland Tuesday, have scored more goals individually than the Terps have scored as a team. At least three more individuals have equaled Maryland's team total. The Terps have been shut out four times.
Georgetown's head coach Brian Wiese said after the game that he thought Maryland had controlled the flow of play from the 30th minute through the 60th minute. Yet the Terps failed to mount any serious threats on goal. Said Cirovski,
"We're just not good enough right now. We have one goal from a forward after nine games. Unfortunately, that's our reality right now. I have to look and maybe make some more changes and make some more tweaks because we're just not good enough against good teams to score goals. We've got two midfielders with two goals apiece but no production from our forwards. That's not good enough. Unfortunately we have to reinvent ourselves in the middle of the year. We're good enough to beat teams like Georgetown or Michigan State or Louisville. We've played equal or better in all the games we've played these teams but we've got to find goals."
His goalkeeper, Zack Steffen talked about what he sees in practice versus what he's seeing on the field, "In practice we move the ball very quickly. One or two touches before a pass. Tonight, we took too many touches on the ball just like at the beginning of the season."
You're calling to me, I can't hear what you've said
A Maryland coach once told me that a player who is not excelling at her job in whatever role she has can't truly take a leadership role because her performance hasn't earned sufficient respect from her teammates. Could it be that this is the missing factor for Maryland's forward line thus far?
Observers who know the game of soccer far better than I have told me that Dan Metzger's on field performance has been consistently excellent. They assure me that his play as a holding midfielder has met or exceeded every expectation one should have of a player on the MAC Hermann Award watch list. But, although he is one of those two midfielders who has scored two goals, attacking and scoring are not a significant part of his job description.
Steffen, who may be the player whose personality most resembles his coach, has stepped up his game from his freshman to his sophomore season. He has improved his goals against average 25 percent lowering it from 1.14 to 0.85 per game which should be enough to win plenty of games for a team like Maryland.
Although he doesn't have an eye popping save percentage, he's had little chance on most of the goals he's conceded. After Georgetown's goal, Steffen said, "I kind of laid into them a little bit trying to get guys mad and fired up. Trying to get guys to be aggressive because tonight we weren't aggressive enough. I guess it didn't work." Of course not, Zack, Scoring's not part of your job description either.
And Cirovski has no illusions:
"Right now I'm not getting the message clearly to my players and I've got to look in the mirror and find a way to make sure that we can get the most out of our players.
"We need to have somebody emerge to put the ball in the back of the net. You see it all the time at this point. It's almost like we're over training. We're training really good things and guys are showing signs in practice that we can come together but when we get into a game it's not connecting right now."
The second hand unwinds
What lies ahead for Maryland? First and foremost, as their coach said, "We still have a lot of recoverability in our schedule. We're not going away slowly. There's too much pride. We're going to get back to work. We've got a lot of quality and we've just got to find a way to get more goals out of the players that are on the field."
And Cirovski is likely right. The Terrapins have five conference games remaining beginning with Sunday's game at Northwestern. An undefeated run through those five games might not put Maryland in a position to win the conference but it should put them in the top two or three spots and all but assure an NCAA Tournament bid.
Of their four remaining non-conference games, all are at home and only the game against Hartwick (RPI 182) stands to have a measurable negative impact on the Terps' RPI but the game with number 47 Santa Clara should be sufficient to offset that.
But the drum is beating quickly and out of time. The Terps can no longer go slow. They need to find their offense and find it quickly or they will, indeed, fall behind.
I'm including this video not simply because of the story's flow but because anyone reading this who has never heard Eva Cassidy sing, well, you should.