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No. 7 Maryland men’s soccer vs. No. 1 Georgetown preview

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The Terps look to make it 5-0 against the formidable Hoyas.

Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics

No. 7 Maryland men’s soccer will face its toughest test yet when they travel to Shaw Field to take on the top-ranked Georgetown Hoyas.

The Terps have been one of the fastest risers in the polls so far this season thanks to a 4-0 start. After starting the year in the receiving votes column of the United Soccer Coaches poll, Maryland has leaped 19 spots and is now the highest-ranked Big Ten team in the nation.

Upon defeating George Mason and Virginia last weekend, the Terps moved up four spots, setting up the top-10 matchup versus the Hoyas.

“I’m very pleased with where we are as a team,” head coach Sasho Cirovski said. “I think we’ve gotten better in certain aspects of our game through every game and now we have the ultimate early season test against one of the best teams in the country.”

Maryland will hit the road, once again traveling south to the nation’s capital. The game will start at 1 p.m. and will be broadcasted on the Big East Digital Network on FloSports.

Georgetown Hoyas (4-0)

2020 record: 10-2-2 (7-0-2)

Head coach Brian Wiese served as an assistant with Stanford and Notre Dame before taking over the Hoya program in 2006. A 2019 national championship was the pinnacle of Wiese’s career, as Georgetown hoisted the trophy after a 20-1-3 record. He won the United Soccer Coaches Division I Coach of the Year in 2012 for a 19-win season, advancing to the national championship game after starting the year unranked. From those humble beginnings as a nationally prominent program, Wiese has transformed Georgetown into a consistent threat for the national championship.

This season, Wiese and the Hoya’s have gotten off to a strong, undefeated start. Georgetown has won all four of its matchups against UC Irvine, Fordham, Syracuse and Santa Clara.

Players to know

Junior midfielder Dante Polvara (No. 8) — Polvara has quickly risen to become one of the top midfielders in the country. As just a sophomore, Polvara was named a United Soccer Coaches First Team All-American honoree and was the Big East Player of the Year after pacing the Hoyas with eight goals for 18 points on the year. While Polvara has taken a backseat in the scoring department this season, he hasn’t been shy with taking chances with a whopping 13 shots and five on goal, with one of those finding the back of the net.

Senior midfielder Sean Zawadski (No. 6) — Zawadski completes a spectacular 1-2 punch in the midfield for the Hoyas as the senior joined Polvara on the preseason All-Big East team. He has only three career goals, but the Ohio native orchestrates the offense with his excellent ball skills and field vision. Like Polvara, he too has not been shy with the shots this season, firing off seven to no avail this year.

Senior goalkeeper Giannis Nikopolidis (No. 0) — Nikopolidis rounds out the trio of Hoyas elected to the preseason All-Big East team. While he has split time in net with graduate student Ethan Koehler this year, Nikopolidis has not allowed a goal adding to his impressive resume. As a United Soccer Coaches First Team All-American honoree in 2020, he is firmly on the radar of ascending to the top goalie in the country.

Strength

Staying composed. Georgetown hasn’t allowed a score since its season opener against UC Irvine on Aug. 27, but its past two games have seen the Hoyas enter halftime in 0-0 ties. While the offense has corrected its shortcomings in the second halves of those games, the ability of its goalkeeper tandem to keep the opponents at bay, plus the offense’s confidence coming out of the locker room shows off the composure Georgetown exudes.

Weakness

Nothing. Just ask Cirovski.

“They’re strong all over the field,” Cirovski said. “They have two outstanding goalkeepers, arguably two of the top midfielders in the whole country. They’ve got real attacking outside backs that overload and make things difficult to handle.”

Despite the high praise, Cirovski made it clear it wasn’t going to be a cakewalk for Georgetown either.

“It’s an outstanding team, really no weakness on their team, as I think there is not a weakness on our team,” Cirovski said. “So I think that you have two teams that are talented and deep and highly ambitious.”

Three things to watch

1. How will Maryland handle its first true road test? The visit to Audi Field on Labor Day saw The Crew in full force and there’s no reason to expect Maryland’s electric student section to not show out on Saturday with Georgetown so nearby. But even with a show out like at the neutral site, The Crew will be met by a true competitor in the decibel meter. The same holds true for the Terps, but they believe playing in front of its rowdy crowd, albeit in their favor, has prepared them for the environment.

“It’s gonna feel like the crowd is on top of us and those are the environments that Ludwig really prepares us for,” forward Justin Gielen said. “We know that we’re ready for it and we know that we’re going to perform the best when the lights are on.”

2. Can the defense keep Georgetown on its toes? Because of Maryland’s frequent substitutions, keeping fresh legs could be the difference-maker against the Hoyas. It just might be the key to getting past Georgetown’s relentless offensive unit in what should be a physical matchup.

“We know over 90 minutes that no team is going be better than us,” defender Brett St. Martin said. “We’re going to impose our will on the team at the end of the day.”

3. It’s the marquee matchup of the young college soccer season. No. 1 versus No. 7. It’s the most anticipated matchup of the season to this point, largely assisted by Maryland’s skyrocket-up the polls to make this a top-10 showdown. The proximity of the two makes this rivalry even more enticing, setting the stage for what should be an intense battle.

“We’re definitely getting ready for a fight, for a battle this weekend,” Gielen said. “We’re two of the top programs in the country and we’re going to bring it every time we come up against each other.”