Sasho Cirovski, the head coach of the University of Maryland men's soccer team, approaches scheduling with a philosophic belief that he breeds programmatic success by challenging his team early in the season and the 2015 schedule looks to be no exception. By the end of Maryland's 17-game regular season, the Terps will have faced 10 teams that played in the 2015 NCAA Tournament including the top three seeds.
Because of this aggressive scheduling, slow starts aren't extraordinary for Cirovski and the Terps. In 2013, Maryland was 2-2-3 after seven games. The Terps finished the regular season 8-1-2 before sweeping through the ACC Tournament and eventually suffering a controversial 2-1 loss to Notre Dame in the NCAA championship game.
Last year, the Terps were 2-3-2 after seven games. The season seemed to hit its nadir in a 3-2 overtime loss at Northwestern that resulted in a one game suspension for Cirovski. Maryland then ripped off 10 straight wins en route to claiming the Big Ten regular season and tournament titles before its shocking 1-0 loss at home in the NCAA Tournament's second round to my alma mater, UMBC.
Although the 2014 season had a disappointing end, with 14 consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances, the longest current streak in the NCAA, half of which have resulted in no worse than a College Cup appearance (four national semifinals, one final, plus two National Championships) one would be hard pressed to argue with Cirovski's approach.
Starting right in
To quote Ralph Kramden, "So, you're startin; right in, are you? No warming up in the bullpen or nothin.'" That may express how the players feel about the beginning of Maryland's schedule. After running through a string of three exhibition games beginning on Aug. 15 at Ludwig Field in College Park, the Terps will open their season with a pair of neutral site games in Bloomington, Indiana in the adidas/IU Credit Union Classic.
Yes, these will be neutral site games. Though Indiana is one of the participating teams, Maryland won't face the Hoosiers until hosting them for a Friday night game on October 16th. Rather, the Terps will tackle the Notre Dame Fighting Irish on Aug. 28 and the St. John's Red Storm two days later while Indiana faces the teams in the opposite order.
Lest you have extreme short-term memory problems, I will remind you, as I sadly did above, that the Irish nipped the Terps in the 2013 national championship game. They are the two-time defending ACC regular season champions and, although they were bounced by Virginia in the third round of the NCAA Tournament, were the top overall seed.
St. John's is also a quality program. Although the Red Storm has failed to reach the last two NCAA Tournaments, it has 11 Tournament and two College Cup appearances since 2000.
Home sweet home
Following the two August contests, the Terrapins return to College Park for a four-game home stand. Just because they're home, it doesn't mean the competition gets any easier. In their Sept. 4 home opener, Maryland will host the UCLA Bruins. The Bruins entered the 2014 NCAA Tournament as the No. 2 overall seed and lost the title to Virginia in a penalty kick (PK) shootout.
And still there's no let up. On Labor Day, the Akron Zips will take the pitch at Ludwig Field. Since 2001, the Zips have missed the NCAA Tournament only once -- in 2006. Like UCLA, they too lost a PK shootout to UVA with an NCAA title on the line. That loss came in 2009 but Akron bounced back to win the championship in 2010.
The Terps will complete the home stand with another Friday-Monday pair of games. On Friday, Sept. 11, Maryland will host Michigan in the B1G opener for both squads. The following Monday, the Terrapins will look to gain a measure of revenge when they host Navy -- a squad that handed them a 2-1 early season defeat in 2014.
On the Road Again
After hosting Navy, Maryland will take to the road for three straight games. Two conference contests will sandwich a short trip to Georgetown. The Terps complete their competition against last season's top three NCAA Tournament seeds when they travel to East Lansing to face the Michigan State Spartans.
The Spartans came to College Park twice last season and shut out the Terps on both occasions. Michigan State won the first 1-0 and dropped the second in a B1G Tournament seminfinal that Maryland won 3-2 on PKs. The Terps will also travel to Madison to face the Wisconsin Badgers.
Before that, however, Maryland will make the 12-mile trip from College Park to Shaw Field in Georgetown to face the Hoyas. The Hoyas nipped the Terrapins 1-0 in College Park last season and, of course, also won a PK shootout over Maryland in the 2012 NCAA semifinals.
The second half
Maryland will face B1G conference foes in four of the final eight regular season games on its schedule. It will host Northwestern and Indiana before closing the regular season at home against Rutgers. Trips to Penn State and Ohio State are the only road games for the closing stretch.
The three non-conference teams that will come to College Park are Villanova, Delaware and Washington. Villanova, the third Big East team on Maryland's schedule (St. John's and Georgetown), finished 8-8-3 in 2014 and may represent the closest thing to a breather on the Terps' non-conference schedule.
Delaware, finished 13-6-1 and came one game short of reaching the NCAA Tournament when they dropped a 1-0 decision to James Madison in the Colonial Athletic Association Tournament title game.
The Washington Huskies were the 14th seed in last year's NCAA Tournament and represent a second PAC-12 opponent for the Terps. They finished the season 12-5-3 and lost in the third round of the NCAA Tournament In a PK shootout with Michigan State.
The big finish
If Maryland makes a deep run and reaches the College Cup in 2015, it will certainly be a battle-tested group. Its schedule features 10 teams from the 2014 NCAA Tournament balanced with five coming in conference play balanced by five teams on their non-conference schedule.
Although Michigan State is the only conference foe that drew a national seed (No. 3), four of Maryland's non-conference opponents - Notre Dame (No. 1), UCLA (No. 2), Georgetown (No. 8) and Washington (No. 14) earned NCAA Tournament seeds. Toss historical powerhouse Akron into that mix and a successful Terrapins squad should be primed and ready for another run at the College Cup.
Story published courtesy of TerpTalk.com.