Maryland's Men's Soccer is back! The program, a perennial powerhouse, has undergone quite a bit of change since a up and down, though quality 2014 season. As usual though, it's chock full of talent and one that is capable of, and expects to be competing for National Championships, which they've won two of under Coach Sasho Cirovski. For more on the team's turnover, quotes from Cirovski and players, and a general outlook on this season, read Ryan Connors season preview: Maryland men's soccer preview: Will this season be a return to glory?
Here I'll be previewing the Terps tilt with #4 Notre Dame. You may remember the Irish as the team who beat the Terps 2-1 to win the National Championship in 2013. ND has been a fixture in the NCAA Tournament over the last 10+ years, and regularly makes runs to the Round of 16 or further in the tournament. This Irish squad figures to be in the mix at those stages once again as well.
Senior Patrick Hodan is the star of the team, and scored the winning goal in the 2013 title game vs the Terps. He has 26 career goals, including a team leading nine last campaign. He was the ACC Player of the Year and was a National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA) 1st Team All American. He's had a wonderful career and his ability to get goals from the midfield and make sharp runs into the box will be a difficult task for Maryland's midfield to deal with, which has some questions after losing Dan Metzger and Alex Shinsky.
Notre Dame also returns their leading assist tallier from 2014 in Sophomore Forward Jeffrey Farina. While posting just two goals up top, Farina nabbed seven assists and was named to the All-ACC Freshman team. He's a towering presence at 6'3' and how Maryland's back line deals with him in the air and the threat of long balls played looking for knock downs on headers, will be difficult. Alex Crognale should draw the assignment of marking Farina and does match-up well physically at 6'5'. Crognale will be the leader of the Terps defense and one of the leaders on the team, and how he forges communication with a new goalkeeper will be key.
Crognale won't be alone though. Chris Odoi-Atsem was a First Team Big Ten Selection last season, and is the team's best defender. He'll have to deal with the threats of the late runners from the Irish midfield, the aforementioned Hodan and Evan Panken who had four goals and six assists last season. While the Irish attack will pose an issue for some of the younger members of the Terps back line and especially the defensive midfielders who fill in the role of shielding the defense, Notre Dame's offense is one that can be contained. The issue will be breaking through on the other end, something that plagued the Terps last season.
Maryland returns two key men that will influence the Terps attack: Mael Corboz and Tsubasa Endoh. Corboz led the team with 10 goals, and Endoh, when healthy, has often been the team's most creative attacking presence. And while these two were both fantastic for the team last year - Endoh dealt with injuries at times - I don't think it's unfair to say that the Terps could use a bit more. Corboz scored 10 goals, but 7 came from dead ball situations. Now a goal is a goal, doesn't matter how you get it. And Corboz brings much more behind his goalscoring. He's a great creative presence and he helped give the Terps a much needed presence of someone great on the ball further towards the attack. But I think they could use more than three goals in open play. And for Endoh it's a matter of staying fit. Which isn't his fault. Maryland can't afford to lose a player of his caliber though. Their play will direct where this team goes all season and especially vs Notre Dame. Their creative nous and ability to play that quality final ball or make that late run into the box to finish something off, will be crucial.
The big problem going forward for this team last season and one that is especially key in Friday's game and all season is goals from forwards. Maryland got just 11 goals from their forwards last season. No forward had more than four. Notre Dame ranked Top 30 in goals against average and 3rd in the ACC. It's a tough unit to break down. And those numbers don't make you feel confident. And we don't necessarily know who's getting the minutes. Sebastian Elney is a US U-18 international and Top 5 recruit. Jorge Calix was a highly touted recruit and Paul Bin is a transfer from Real Salt Lake's Youth Academy. Whoever they may be, they'll need to be able to make runs behind the Notre Dame defense and be able to hold the ball up well to allow late runners to get into the box. And when they get a chance...take it.
Sasho Cirovski is known to schedule the toughest opposition possible for his team early in the season. He's lined up another tough team here and it'll pose problems for Maryland. But if they can come through with a win or even simply a strong performance, it could tell us whether this team's potential can turn into something more.
Game time is 5:30 ET on Friday. Streaming will be available through BTN2Go. Follow Maryland Men's Soccer on Twitter here: https://twitter.com/MarylandMSoccer. The game is part of the Adidas/IU Credit Union Classic which takes place from Bloomington, Indiana on the campus of Indiana University. It's a mini tournament between Maryland, Notre Dame, Indiana, and St. John's.
Testudo Times will have a recap up soon after the game is finished.