Quick. Did anyone reading this story listen to the Testudo Times Olympic Sports podcast and were you sober enough to remember any of it today? In case the answer to either of those questions is no, (and even if it's yes) I'll remind you that in the first three minutes I stated that Maryland's number two preseason ranking was likely too high.
The pollsters looked at the Terrapins and thought, "They have eight or nine starters returning to a team that made the national championship game in 2013, they must be primed to return." I looked at Maryland and, in place of Patrick Mullins, Jake Pace, Sunny Jane, and Schillo Tshuma (who accounted for well over 60 percent of Maryland's goals), I saw an attack that would be heavily dependent on freshmen and wondered how the Terps would score especially early in the season.
Sure, George Campbell won a National Player of the Year Award from the NSCAA and he scored 23 goals as a high school senior but college is a different level. There's a requisite period of adjustment to the physicality and quickness of the college game. The shot he took in a one on four situation in Monday's game against Navy exemplifies this. Campbell had space and the shot rocketed off his foot. Perhaps that gets through the defense in high school where the players are a beat slower and perhaps not as well schooled. In the game, the shot led to an open counter for Navy and only a brilliant save by Zack Steffen prevented a goal.
So what's a fan to do?
First, trust Shasho. Maryland's second longest serving head coach, Sasho Cirovski has been through this before - as recently as last year. Cirovski knows how to bring a team along and how to pull them up through a tough stretch. After a 3-2 home loss to VCU last season, the Terrapins suffered only one more loss before the national championship game. Draw no inference that fans should expect the same result this season. Do conclude that Sasho will right the ship and Maryland will win far more games than they lose over the remainder of the season. Terrapins fans also need to keep in mind that Maryland's attack has been absent one of it's key cogs, Tsubasa Endoh, for three of the first four games and that redshirt freshman Emmanuel Korvah is just playing himself into game condition. Korvah could develop into a player who also becomes a key part of the Terps' attack.
Cirovski was well aware of this offensive shortcoming entering the season. After 110 minutes of scoreless soccer against UMBC at Ludwig Field, he shared these thoughts,
"I think I knew at the beginning of the year that we were going to have some questions in terms of how we were going to build our attack and how we were going to finish things in the attack and I think tonight you saw that we still have some questions. Once we got the ball in the final half of the field, the connectivity was not there, the sharpness was not there, and the malice that Maryland has in it's attack was not there."
He likely could have said much the same after the game at Navy. (Ed. Note: Because of the late end of the game at Navy, we were not able to stay to talk with the coach following that game and what he said to his team is likely not printable.)
Ultimately, like Maryland's longest serving coach, field hockey's Missy Meharg, Cirovski is an optimist, "It's going to come. I believe in the guys we have."
Areas to improve
In general, Cirovski has been happy with his defense which played exceptionally well against UMBC. However, because Maryland has managed only four goals in four games (with three coming in the game against Coastal Carolina) the impact of any defensive errors becomes magnified.
Still, the focus going forward will have to be on Maryland's offense.
"Offensively against UMBC we got into good spots but then the final pass wasn't there or the runners weren't there. Some decisions could have been made to pass instead of taking shots. We need to get better in our execution in the final third. Everything from the spacing of our attacking players to getting a little more coordination with the runs needs to get better. When you have a team philosophy to be an attacking team and you're introducing four or five freshmen in the attack, that's tough."
The Cirovski method
Maryland opened the season on the road against a ranked Louisville squad in a situation made harder by being the Cardinals' first opponent in their new soccer only facility. The three succeeding opponents were all veteran teams that had all made the 2013 NCAA Tournament. This is by design.
"I scheduled this because these are the games that will make us better. UMBC is a veteran senior team that's very athletic and were very committed to defending tonight. And it gets no easier facing an always tough, well disciplined Navy team on the road Friday."
Where a connection was missing against UMBC, the Terps scored their lone goal against Navy on a picture perfect give and go between Alex Shinsky and Jeroen Meefout. Though they mixed in some less than stellar play and decision making, they developed other chances that showed visible progress and they had several dangerous opportunities on set pieces.
A hard lesson
In his preseason conversation with the media, Cirovski said that he took some pride in having learned to be a bit more gracious in defeat but then reminded us that he doesn't like to lose at anything and hopes he never does accept losing. Following last season's home loss to VCU the coach spent an extended period of time with his team. He had some choice words and forcefully communicated his abhorrence of losing - an abhorrence that intensifies when he thinks the Terrapins have been outworked by their opponent. I sense the 2014 squad heard a similar diatribe following Monday's loss.
After the Navy game, Cirovski gave this statement for Maryland's press release,
"I thought Navy deserved the victory and they came out and competed very hard. I thought we played a poor first half and looked tired both mentally and physically. It’s still no excuse for our performance and I have to give Navy credit for competing hard and playing well and making the two plays that mattered."
Maryland fans should not expect to see a similar statement from their coach for the remainder of the season. They should expect to see a more determined Maryland team particularly as the Terrapins open Big Ten play Friday at Michigan followed a week later by their first ever home B1G contest when they host Michigan State.