After being ousted unceremoniously by UMBC on its home turf in last year's NCAA tournament, Maryland men's soccer begins its 2015 campaign looking to make a return to the College Cup.
The squad finished No. 1 in the Big Ten's preseason coach's poll for the second year in a row after winning the conference's regular season title and postseason tournament last year. Last year's team went 13-6-3, with a 5-2-1 record in Big Ten play, and coach Sasho Cirovski is expecting B1G things from his team in year two.
"The expectation is to be the last team standing, both in the Big Ten and nationally," Cirovski said Tuesday. "That's the Maryland soccer expectation."
As always, the Terps have an impressive early-season schedule that turns up the heat right out of the gate. After opening against No. 4 Notre Dame, the Terps' next big test will come against preseason No. 1 UCLA in Maryland's home opener. Five of the team's first eight games come against teams that are ranked in the top 25 in the NCAA Coaches' Poll.
"If you look at our schedule, you'll see it's daunting, that's the way we like it at Maryland," Cirovski said. "We open up and play the best teams in the country.
"In many of our most successful seasons, we've unfortunately opened the season with a loss, but I like to see where our team is right away," he said.
After multiple national championships, it's hard to argue with Cirovski's approach. By the time the end of the season rolls around, the Terps should have some quality wins on their resume even if they drop a few out-of-conference matches.
Mael Corboz- senior midfielder
After transferring from Rutgers last year, the midfielder led the team in goals with 10 when no other player on the team had more than four. Corboz should increase that total as he becomes more comfortable in year two with the Terps.
Alex Crognale- junior defender
The defender is the team's only returning starter on the back line, and his ability to anchor the defense will be more important with a new goalkeeper in the net. Cirovski called him "terrific leader" on Tuesday and he'll have to be to head a unit filled with young guns as the team starts its playoff run.
Tsubasa Endoh- senior midfielder
After missing part of last season due to injury, Endoh figures to be a big piece of the offense in his senior season. The senior has seven goals his three seasons in College Park, and he'll definitely add to that this year after a healthy preseason.
"When you have two seniors like that in the midfield, plugging in other guys shouldn't be much of a problem," Cirovski said of Endoh and Corboz.
The midfielder has been a superb offensive player for Maryland since the moment he arrived, and something tells me he'll be hungry for a championship after losing in the College Cup as a freshman.
Just about every year, Cirovski is faced with the challenge of replacing several core players from the previous year's team, and this year's challenge is no different. Cirovski lost six starters, including midfielders Dan Metzger and Alex Shinsky, both of whom were taken in the MLS SuperDraft. In late December, defender Mikey Ambrose annouced he was forgoing his final year of eligibility to sign with the Austin Aztex of the USL PRO. However, the offseason's biggest bomb dropped earlier that month when goalkeeper Zack Steffen signed with German club SC Freiburg, forgoing his final two years in College Park and leaving the Terps with a giant question mark in goal. Which brings us to our next topic...
Who's manning the net?
With Steffen gone, the Terps have two options at goalkeeper: redshirt junior Cody Niedermeier and freshman Dayne St. Clair. Cirovski indicated Tuesday that Niedermeier would get the start in the opener, but said both players should recieve playing time in the first month of the season.
Niedermeier has overcome two season-ending injuries to finally compete for a starting role this year after not seeing a single minute of game time while backing up Keith Cardona and Steffen in his previous seasons with the team. In Tuesday's press conference, Cirovski gushed over Niedermeier's character, saying the goalkeeper is always the first one to volunteer to host recruits and calling him "one of the great servants of our program."
Despite those kind words, Cirovski was careful to point out that "the goalkeeper position is not locked down."
St. Clair played for Canada's U-18 national team, so he's no slouch. Cirovski didn't elaborate on him except for calling him "an extremely talented goalkeeper."
While it appears he has the upper hand at the moment, it seems like Niedermeier will be on a short leash to start the season.
Exactly half of the Maryland's 26 players are new to the team this year- 11 freshmen and two transfers. While all this change could be cause for concern, any worries should be tempered by the fact that these new players are pretty good- the recruiting class was ranked No. 1 by College Soccer News, and transfers Cody Albrecht and Paul Bin could potentially play big-time minutes for the team. Cirovski had good things to say about each and every one of these new players Tuesday, but declined to pick any guys who specifically have stood out so far. You'll just have to watch the games (or read Testudo Times) to find out.
Here's what the team's full schedule looks like:
Fri. Aug. 28: Away vs. Notre Dame (in Indiana) 5:00
Sun. Aug 30: Away vs. St. John's (in Indiana) 11:30 am.
Fri. Sept. 4: Home opener vs. UCLA (7:00)
Mon. Sept. 7: Home vs. Akron (7:00)
Fri. Sept. 11: Home vs. Michigan (7:00)
Mon. Sept. 14: Home vs. Navy (7:00)
Fri. Sept. 18: Away at Michigan State (5:00)
Wed. Sept. 23: Away at Georgetown (4:00)
Sun. Sept. 27: Away at Wisconsin (1:00)
Fri. Oct. 2: Home vs. Northwestern (7:30)
Mon. Oct 5: Home vs. Villanova (7:00)
Fri. Oct. 9: Away at Penn State (7:00)
Fri. Oct. 16: Home at Indiana (7:30)
Tues. Oct. 20: Home vs. Delaware (7:00)
Fri. Oct. 23: Home vs. Washington (7:30)
Sat. Oct. 31: Away at Ohio State (7:00)
Wed. Nov 4: Home vs. Rutgers (7:00)