Each year about this time, Maryland men's soccer head coach Sasho Cirovski meets with the media to talk about the state of the team and the outlook for the coming season. The first thing on Cirovski's mind entering the session was dispelling the notion that the Terps will have an easy time of it in their inaugural Big Ten season. He used the information in the photo above to buttress his argument. Unfortunately for the coach, I still think like the accountant I used to be.
He listed the teams in both the ACC and the B1G with their final 2013 RPI. With the addition of the Terrapins, the average RPI of the Big Ten becomes an impressive 39 while swapping Louisville for Maryland lowers the ACC to an average RPI of 48 implying that top to bottom, the B1G is already the stronger conference. Now, coaches are to some degree salesmen and Cirovski has to sell his team the idea that the new conference schedule won't be a cakewalk and he wants to sell the same notion to the media and the fans.
My first thought was that it might be more fairer to make the comparison of the leagues as they were actually configured at the end of the 2013 season. By this measurement, the B1G's average RPI (without UMD) comes in at 43.625 and the ACC's at 45.333. So the B1G still comes out a shade ahead. But it's still a bit of an apples to oranges comparison. The 2013 B1G had eight teams and this season adds a ninth in Maryland. In both years, a dozen teams would take part in ACC play. One would hope and expect that the number nine ranked RPI team in the Big Ten would be better by a significant margin than the twelfth ranked ACC squad. And such is exactly the case. Even with Louisville replacing Maryland, the RPI average for the top nine ACC teams is a very low 26.555.
Sorry, Coach. For me, it's no sale. What I will buy is that seven of the eight teams Maryland will face in conference play are reasonably comparable to teams they would face in the ACC. And that Ohio State at number 90 isn't quite as much of a night off than facing number 147 Pitt.
Flipping the script
"From a coaching standpoint, it's a little bit easier rotating forwards than trying to figure out who's going to play on the back line."
At this point last season, with Patrick Mullins, Jake Pace, and Schillo Tshuma there was little concern about Maryland's attack. Instead, the talk around Maryland soccer was about the youth of a back line that featured three freshmen. This year, the back line is settled with all of the starters from last season returning but the front line is in flux as the Terps have to replace the trio who combined to score 31 of Maryland's 53 goals last season. Look for highly touted freshman George Campbell to play a big role in the Terrapins' offense.
"George is going to play a pivotal role this year. He's going to be an impact player for us. At this point, David (Kabelik) and George will start against Louisville (in Friday night's season opener) but you're going to see three or four forwards, maybe five playing early on until we can figure out the best combination of forwards," Cirovski said.
The Terps' leading returning scorer is Michael Sauers who found the back of the net five times on just 25 shots. Of his advancing midfielder, Cirovski said, "To me he's a starter on this team even though he may not necessarily be in the starting lineup. I expect he'll play in every half of every game. He'll be involved heavily. We may even give him some looks playing next to George up top. Michael is so versatile he can play any of the three advance midfield positions right, left, or attacking. And, he scores big goals in key games so he'll play a lot even if he's not always on the field to start the game."
"Our midfield should be one of our strengths this year."
For the casual fan, the most recognizable name in the Terrapins' midfield Will Likely be Dan Metzger. The senior from Holmdel, NY was named to the Mac Hermann Award watch list. "You don't see a lot of backs or defensive midfielders get that kind of recognition," Cirovski said in response to my question. "Last year, along with Patrick he was our most significant player. He was our anchor in the defensive midfield and will be again this year. But we've also asked him to take on an even larger role. That's why we named him captain right after the season last year."
In another nod to the casual fan, Cirovski noted that Metzger got called in late to the Under 21 U.S. Olympic pool and he started and played 70 minutes against the Bahamas full national team. Cirovski thinks it possible that when the Olympics roll around in 2016 Maryland may have another player shining on an international stage in Dan Metzger,
One of the first surprises that came in the coach's comments was his praise of the early play of Rutgers transfer Mael Corboz. Together with Metzger, co-captain Alex Shinsky, and Tsubasa Endoh, Cirovski thinks this group could be the best midfield the Terps will put on the field this year. The three advancing midfield positions is an area the coach sees a great deal of depth. In addition to the aforementioned Sauers, Corboz, and Endoh, Cirovski said that Daniel Johnson is an emerging player to watch. The coach called him a player "full of creativity." A freshman who might see some playing time in this area is Jake Areman. "He's kind of an unsung recruit but he's a terrific player. He has great feet. Good athleticism. He'll play a nice role for us this year."
The back line
"I feel like we should be extremely strong in goal and across our back line."
While Cirovski expects the midfield to be one of Maryland's strengths, there can be little doubt that the Terrapins should be exceptional in the defensive half of the field.
The strength starts with sophomore goalkeeper Zack Steffen. Steffen played every minute in goal for Maryland in 2013 and helped the Terps come within one goal of winning the program's fourth national championship. Steffen and his defensive mates yielded only seven goals over the season's final 12 games.
Cirovski described Steffen as, "An extremely valuable leader on the field. He organizes. He talks extremely well. As well as he played for us in the second half last season, his confidence is even higher now. With Dan Metzger, these are two of the spine players on your team - your defensive midfielder and your goalkeeper."
One of the returning defensive stalwarts will be center back Chris Odoi-Atsem. "Chris was one of the great revelations of last season. His emergence was absolutely crucial to our success." As for the other center back position, Cirovski said, "We have a lot of competition. Alex Crognale is playing at a higher level than he did last year. But Suli (Dainkeh) has also raised his game and Dakota Edwards is healthy so we have quite a bit of competition at the center back spot."
What's coming up in Part Two
In part two of our season preview we'll hear about the Terps' spring break trip to London, some more of Sasho's thoughts on scheduling, as well as his thoughts on leadership, moving past last season's final game, and Patrick Mullins. Well also hear from three of his featured players Dan Metzger, Alex Shinsky, and Zack Steffen. So stay tuned.