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Maryland men’s soccer 2021 season preview

Maryland’s youth movement has generated a ton of optimism heading into this season.

Limited to a conference-only schedule last spring, the Maryland men’s soccer team struggled out of the gates with an 0-3 start but were able to finish out the regular season going 4-0-1.

Maryland’s Big Ten tournament hopes were dashed by the Indiana Hoosiers for the third straight year, and although the Terps did just enough to earn a spot in the College Cup — its 20th straight berth — it was a quick exit by the hands of the Missouri State Bears in the first round.

This year presents some upside given the impressive progress shown by its young core and a solid positive three-point scoring margin in its three exhibition matches.

“Having exhibition games was a real treat,” head coach Sasho Cirovski said. “We can really give a lot of young men an opportunity to play and develop relationships on the field and get ingrained into our culture and style.”

Cirovski enters his 29th season and while the Terrapins seem to be ways away from replicating its 2018 national championship season, the 2021 season has the potential to turn a few heads.

Here’s how the season looks to shape out.

Key losses

Maryland lost two major pieces in the forward duo of Paul Bin and Eric Matzelevich.

Bin was the statistical leader for the Terps in the spring, notching a team-leading seven points on three goals. After missing the entire 2019 season due to injury, Bin burst back onto the scene to earn a spot on the All-Big Ten Second Team. He was riddled with injuries and still performed brilliantly for Maryland last season. The program will sorely miss his leadership and presence on the field.

Matzelevich only suited up for seven matches due to lingering injuries, but his role on the pitch as the emotional leader of the Terrapins will be tough to replace nonetheless. In 2019, Matzelevich started all 21 games, scoring six times on 24 shots on goal. Despite struggling to get his offense rolling this past season, his leadership will be missed on a young Maryland squad.

Another forward lost to graduation is Clarksville, Maryland native Mike Heitzmann. The redshirt senior played in all 11 matches and started five, filling in admirably for Matzelevich by logging a career-high 489 minutes.

The Montreal defender Marques Antoine is also leaving College Park after transferring to Temple. Antoine missed all of the spring season due to injury, but appeared in six matches and started three as a freshman in 2019.

Returning players

A big reason for optimism with this Maryland squad is the flurry of its returning youngsters. After showing glimpses of promise in the coronavirus-shortened spring season, Cirovski’s crop of young players will aim to take a big leap forward.

Midfielder Ben Bender leads the youth movement after earning All-Big Ten Second-Team honors in his freshman campaign. A consistent threat in the Maryland rotation (977 minutes played), Bender will look to make a big splash on an offense that is seeking a new leading goal scorer.

Look for sophomore forward Jacen Russell-Rowe to also make a positive impact on the offense, as the All-Big Ten Freshman Team honoree will aim to build off of his two-goal debut season.

Depth remains a huge part of Cirovski’s unit, as multiple upperclassmen return after strong seasons in the spring.

The defender tandem of Nick Richardson and iron man Brett St. Martin returns for the Terrapins. Richardson has become a key cog for the backline, while St. Martin, who played every minute last season for Maryland, returns as the vocal leader of this unit.

“We got to adapt and I think we have a lot of people this season who have stepped up on the field and off the field or just communicating and getting guys together and really being the leaders on this team,” St. Martin said.

The versatile midfielder Malcolm Johnston will also be back in the mix for the Terps, joining forwards Brayan Padilla and Justin Gielen and midfielders Justin Harris and David Kovacic in trying to shore up goals in the wake of Bin’s departure.

New additions

Maryland welcomes a plethora of freshman and seasoned additions to the rotation in 2021.

After redshirting last season, forward Joshua Bolma’s dynamic play will look to make an immediate impact in Maryland’s rotation.

His balance, agility and quickness combined with his vision and creative feel for the game make him a special dynamic player,” Cirovski said during Maryland’s 2021 signing class announcement. “He is a technician with two great feet that can beat you with the dribble or the pass and can play in multiple places on the field.”

Other signees from the 2021 recruiting class include forwards Kyle Brown, Marcus Garcia and Caden Stafford, midfielders Griffin Dillon, Dalton Hass and Richie Nichols, and goalkeeper Caden Byrnes.

The Terps also welcome three new signings during the offseason.

Forward Hunter George is entering his junior season after transferring from San Diego State. George’s offensive prowess leaves him well equipped to make an immediate impact for Maryland’s scoring efforts this season.

Norwegian defender William Kulvik’s skills and agility on the defense add yet another key piece at Cirvoski’s disposal, while South Korean forward Seungeon Kim — who spent the past two years with Pima Community College in Tucson, Arizona — should become a force on offense for the Terrapins despite joining the team just over a month ago.

“I think that we’ve all bonded and I think that’s the more important thing than just any individual can really bring,” Richardson said. “I think we’re gonna be in a good spot when it comes down to passing on the torches.”

Looking forward

Maryland will host No. 18 Charlotte to kick off its season on Thursday in front of a full crowd at Ludwig Field for the first time since the pandemic began. The out-of-conference games continue with two more home matches against UMBC and George Mason before a marquee showdown against Virginia at Audi Field in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 6.

A few more nonconference matches are sprinkled in between the Big Ten schedule for the Terps, including a road trip to Shaw Field against No. 5 Georgetown on Sept. 11 and a home matchup against No. 24 Holy Cross on Sept. 20.

The conference opener will take place on Sept. 17 against Michigan. But Maryland will finish out its regular-season slate with two daunting matchups as they visit No. 11 Penn State on Oct. 26 before traveling back to Ludwig to host No. 2 Indiana in the season finale.

The Terps have a 16-game schedule and a sense of normalcy should be back as fans fill the stands and the quest for more hardware commences in College Park.

“We want to win trophies,” Cirovski said. “It’s been a couple of years without a trophy here. Don’t like it, our team doesn’t like it, and so our goal this year is to bring some hardware back to College Park.”