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Versatility and depth has paved the way for No. 7 Maryland men’s soccer’s hot start

Eight different players have scored for the Terrapins in just four games this season.

Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics

It was a highlight-reel goal from forward Brayan Padilla against Virginia on Sept. 6, that not only gave the No. 7 Maryland men’s soccer team a 2-1 lead they wouldn’t let go of, but made it eight different players to score for the Terrapins in just four games.

Forward Caden Stafford scored the lone goal in the season opener, while forwards Justin Gielen and Jacen Russell-Rowe, and midfielders Ben Bender and Malcolm Johnston piled it on against UMBC on Aug. 29.

Defender Chris Rindov and forward Joshua Bolma kept the streak going against George Mason on Sept. 3, before Bender became the first multi-goal scorer with his penalty kick in the second half of the Battle for the DMV.

Maryland’s impressive start in both the win column and on the stat sheet speaks volumes to the team’s versatility and depth, two factors that have come to define the Terps just four months after injuries ravaged its spring season.

“I was really proud of our team, but we were a fraction ourselves,” head coach Sasho Cirovski said about his team last season. “We had so many injuries last year that we would never ever be able to put our strongest team on the field at one time.”

With nagging injuries to two of its top forwards Eric Matzelevich and Paul Bin, plus a plethora of other ailments across the board, Maryland stumbled to a disappointing 4-5-2 record.

A shorter offseason than usual left the Terps dealing with the aftershock of some lingering injuries, with players like Russell-Rowe and Padilla still recovering. This combined with the sub-.500 record from the spring kept Maryland under the radar as they started the season unofficially ranked No. 26 in the preseason United Soccer Coaches poll.

In a matter of two weeks, however, the Terrapins have put any doubters to bed, with depth being the main benefactor in the team’s success thus far.

Cirovski has been able to cycle his players regularly, with 17 players having eclipsed 100 minutes so far. All facets of the game have seen several permutations hit the pitch and provide Maryland with chemistry and rhythm.

On the attack, Maryland has utilized speedsters in Stafford and Bolma, two newcomers to the Terrapins rotation, in accompanying veterans Gielen and Padilla. They have become so connected to each other’s scoring prowess and tendencies on the field that they and the rest of the team have been calling each other’s shots.

“[Bolma] unfortunately hasn’t had the tribute to score a goal yet, but I think only time will tell how good he is gonna be,” defender Nick Richardson said at fall media day, three days before Bolma’s goal versus George Mason.

Junior transfer Hunter George seems to be the next one knocking on the door after his aggressive offensive showing on Labor Day.

The ability to reach into the bench for fresh legs translates to the midfield too, with the freshman tandem of Richie Nichols and Griffin Dillon. Both midfielders have appeared in every game this season, with Nichols logging two starts in the infancy of his college career.

Dillon may be being brought along a bit slower, but the two are youthful complementary pieces in moving the offense forward and offer some stability to a midfield crowded with established veterans like Johnston and Bender.

The most heavily used rotation has been in goal, as goalkeepers Jamie Lowell and Niklas Neumann have alternated starts and have both been effective for the defense.

Lowell hasn’t allowed a goal in two starts this season, pitching a clean sheet versus Charlotte and George Mason. Neumann meanwhile was roughed up a bit in garbage time versus UMBC, but he held his ground against a tough Virginia team to add support to Maryland’s comeback.

The backline of the defense has no shortage of options either. Defenders Brett St. Martin, Chris Rindov and Richardson are upperclassmen that dictate the tone of a formidable backline, but the absence of defender Alex Nitzl the past two games has left a vacancy.

Look no further than Maryland’s bench unit to fill the void left by Nitzl, as defender Kento Abe has slotted in the German’s place admirably. After seeing the field just twice his freshman season, Abe has started the last two games and has logged all 90 minutes in sensational performances.

“Kento is the ultimate team player,” Cirovski said. “That’s the message to all of our players is you never know when your time will come. You got to be ready for it.”

Abe is the epitome of Maryland’s versatility, as the defense hasn’t seemed to have missed a beat since the insertion of the sophomore into the rotation.

Maryland has found different ways to win this season, but the constant in its 4-0 start to the season has been the extreme depth the team has displayed. From underclassmen making a profound impact to newcomers making a name for themselves, the Terps are on the right track not just for this season, but for the future as well.