In a rematch of the 2018 College Cup final, Maryland men’s soccer will take on Akron at Ludwig field Friday night.
After starting 2019 with a victory, the Terps have since dropped consecutive matches to then- No. 6 Virginia and UCLA to fall to 1-2 on the season and drop out of the rankings. But with the College Cup runner-up coming to town, Maryland has an opportunity to pick up a win against a quality club and draw back even to .500.
“I think, like a lot of teams, we’re a work in progress,” head coach Sasho Cirovski said. “We’re trying to get better in all facets of the game, we’re trying to become a little bit better at keeping the ball, we’re trying to become a little more menacing in the attack.”
The short history between these two clubs ranges all the way back to 1993, when Cirovski, in his first season at the helm, and the Terps fell 4-1 in his debut as head coach. Both teams have only met four times since then, with the Terps currently holding the all-time edge over the the Zips 3-2.
Akron Zips (0-3-0, 0-0-0 MAC)
2018 record: 15-7-2 (1-2-1 MAC)
Head coach Jared Embick has made winning a habit for the Zips since his arrival back in 2013, compiling 94 wins over that period — the most in Division I during that span. Embick has the resumé as a top coach in Division I, and looks to ascend even higher as he continues his pursuit of a national title.
Players to know
- Junior forward David Egbo’s return for the 2019 season certainly softened the blow of the departure of over six players who played significant minutes for the team last season. Following a sophomore campaign in which he led the conference in goals (13) and points (31) and earned Third Team All-American honors, Egbo is likely in for another goal-heavy season.
- Junior midfielder Diogo Pacheco only made five starts for Embick last season, but will be asked to do much more for the Zips in 2019. Pacheco played a little over 600 minutes last season, but managed to score five goals and dish three assists to finish fifth on the team in total points. He’ll be in for a larger role than he’s ever had under Embick, but at the very least he’s a familiar face on the pitch from last season’s title run.
- Sophomore defender Carlo Ritaccio provided an instant defensive impact to the Zips’ back line in 2018, starting in all of the team’s 22 matches on his way to being named Freshman of the Year by TopDrawerSoccer.com, as well was Second-Team All-MAC. Alongside fellow sophomore defender Marco Milanese, Ritaccio looks to once again anchor a defensive unit that helped Akron nearly run the table last winter.
Putting teammates in position to score. Last season, Embick’s group of forwards and midfielders put on an offensive performance worthy of one of the top scoring attacks in the country. Finishing with the fourth most goals in Division I in 2018, the Zips excelled at sharing the ball and putting each other in good spots to score.
Akron placed in the top six in both total assists and assists per game last season, with eight different players totaling at least four assists individually. Regardless of who they have returning, Embick clearly places an emphasis on spreading the ball around and working for the best possible shot.
Goalkeeping. For as talented as they are on the other side of the field, the Zips can, at times, struggle to keep their opponents from scoring. They ranked 71st in the country last season in goals allowed against average with 1.11, and have allowed at least two goals per game in each of their first three games this season.
With sophomore Tor Saunders consistently starting in net for the first time in his collegiate career, the Terps should make an effort to test the young keeper as often as possible.
Three things to watch
- Can the Terp defense get back into top form? Maryland’s last match against UCLA saw the team concede the most goals its allowed in a match since October 2017. Cirovski-led teams have always been predicated on sturdy defense, and getting the Terps back to the form that led them to a title should be the team’s top priority.
“We’re being a little too nice,” Cirovski said. “I think we have to start being a little less nice as far as the opportunities the other teams are getting from us.”
2. What will be the intensity level of this match? With the preseason rankings tabbing Maryland and Akron as the No. 1 and No. 3 teams in the country, this College Cup rematch was posturing to be one of the top billed games of the season. Now, with Maryland at No. 24 and Akron well outside of the Top 25, the match has lost a lot of the hype as both teams still look to find their footing in 2019.
“We’re both brand new teams,” sophomore forward Justin Gielen said, “We lost kids from last year, we gained kids from last year, we’re just trying to get our feet under us and get a good season for both of us. They’re gonna be a good team this year, I know we’re gonna be a good team this year, so it should be a good matchup.”
3. Can Maryland’s attack carry over their success from last match? Cirovski, despite the loss, raved over how his offense played against UCLA last Friday.
“When you go on the road and you put on a performance like we did and you score two goals on the road, we should come out of there with probably a victory and minimally a tie,” Cirovski said. “The team is in good spirit, we feel good about the progress we made from the Virginia game and we’re excited for Friday.”
Despite having to rely on a younger core, the Maryland attack is trending in the right direction after its two goal performance at UCLA and looks to keep improving with each game. With the likes of Brayan Padilla, Justin Gielen, and Malcolm Johnston seeing more and more playing time especially against top opponents, the young Terp forwards can really seize the opportunity in front of them with Will Hervé and Luke Brown expected to miss at least the next match.