In the first six games of the season, Maryland men’s soccer (1-3-2) has raised more questions than answers. Under head coach Sasho Cirovski, now in his 31st season, Maryland has only had one season in which its had a worse start than this year: Cirovski’s inaugural season in 1993, when the team went 3-14-1 overall.
This year’s start is not only nearly unprecedented for the Terps, but utterly disappointing. That reigns especially true when you consider the Terps started last year 4-1-1 and lost only two regular-season games.
The reasons for the team’s struggles this season are more complex than they may appear.
A young roster
The Terps have one of their youngest cores in recent memory this season, and while the freshman class’ potential is clear, so is its inexperience.
Cirovski has given significant playing time to nine first-year players, and has made Kimani Stewart-Baynes, Leon Koehl and Kenny Quist-Therson regular starters.
In every game, it’s clear the drastic turnover from last year’s roster has impacted team chemistry. For example, Koehl was added to the roster just weeks before the season and immediately became a starter.
It’s possible the Terps need more time to build camaraderie, but Cirovski must expedite the process if he wants positive results going forward.
Lapses on defense
As a whole, Maryland’s defense has been impressive this season, limiting opponents to just 25 shots on goal. However, intermittent lapses have been the cause of many of the goals it’s conceded.
The Terps have consistently fielded the same back line, except against Penn State when center back William Kulvik was suspended.
Complications have primarily arisen in wingback play, with Luca Costabile and Kento Abe often excelling offensively but occasionally leaving the center backs vulnerable to counter-attacks. If the defensive unit can address these issues, wins may be on the way.
Difficulties in the midfield
The Terps have predominantly used a four-man midfield, featuring the German duo of captain Alex Nitzl and Koehl in the center.
One major issue that Maryland has faced is underutilizing this facet of the pitch. Instead of transitioning the ball methodically through the middle, the Terps have frequently relied on long balls to reach the forwards. However, these long passes often fail to connect or result in a lack of midfield support for the forwards, leading to quick turnovers and counter-attacks for the opposition.
The limited utilization of the midfield is evident in the team’s two points scored in that position this season, both contributed by veteran substitute Joe Suchecki.
Lack of a true No. 1 scoring option
The Terps boast a talented and deep forward group, which includes veterans like Stefan Copetti and rising stars like Stewart-Baynes.
Copetti faced early-season struggles with finishing, and the team has struggled moving the ball effectively in tight spaces near the box. While Stewart-Baynes has been an electrifying attacker, the lack of midfield support and difficulty finding openings in scoring zones have made goals scarce. The two talented forwards have a combined two goals this year.
The team has scored only five goals this season, raising questions about what needs to change in the final third.
Maryland has struggled to dictate the pace of play, except in its dominant win over UNC Greensboro early in the season. In most cases, the Terps have been passive, trailing their opponents and failing to capitalize on first-half possession advantages.
To improve, they must become more assertive from the opening minute. While it’s a risk, an early goal could lead to the opposition chasing the game, potentially yielding significant advantages for the Terps.
Maryland has taken 20 first-half shots, compared to 40 second-half shots. Additionally, the Terps have earned 11 first-half corner kicks, compared to 25 in the second half, highlighting their lack of offensive urgency early.
To secure a chance at the NCAA Tournament, the Terps will need to make numerous adjustments in both roster choices and strategic approaches. The upcoming schedule does not offer much respite, with matches against Wisconsin, No. 13 Northwestern and Rutgers on the horizon.
As the heart of the schedule approaches, it’s time to discover the true potential of the 2023 Terps.