The Maryland men’s soccer team entered 2017 having played into its conference championship in each of the last five years, allotting less than a week to prepare for the NCAA Tournament. This season, though, is uncharted territory for the players, who have been able to rest and recover from numerous injuries sustained in the last several weeks of the season.
Because the Terps lost in their first game of the Big Ten Tournament, they didn’t have to play this past weekend in what turned out to be a cold, rainy and injury-prone weekend in Indiana.
“This was a great opportunity for us to get healthy,” head coach Sasho Cirovski said Tuesday. “We’ve had a great nine days of training since our last loss.”
While Maryland will have had over 10 days of rest heading into the tournament, its first-round opponent, Albany, played a full overtime match in the America East Championship on Sunday. For the first time this season, Cirovski said, his team will be the more rested and more prepared for a match than their opponent.
Still, the Terps haven’t won in over a month, scoring just two goals in their last five matches. Maryland is now ranked No. 34 by the United Soccer Coaches and will play in the first round for the first time since 2009, farther behind other perennial contenders.
“It’s been a long time since we’ve had a chip on our shoulder with an underdog role,” Cirovski said. “I’m looking forward to it and I think our team feels the same way. There’s a few people that have written us off and that’s at their own peril.”
The one piece that Maryland missed throughout its current five-game losing streak was defender Chase Gasper, who missed the last two weeks of the season with a groin injury. Before transferring to Maryland, he played into the NCAA Championship with UCLA in 2014. Gasper and his extensive tournament exposure is expected to return to the starting lineup against the Great Danes, Cirovski confirmed.
Senior midfielder Jake Rozhansky, who played at Virginia for his first two collegiate seasons, also has a deep tournament run in his accolades, winning an NCAA title in 2014. As a freshman, his Cavaliers lost in the first round of the ACC Tournament, but later went on the win the National Championship. He feels that situation closely resembles where the Terps are now.
“That week and a half that we had before the NCAA Tournament started, we really just regrouped and prepared really well,” Rozhansky said. “Everybody as a team took a step back and looked where we were in the season and I think that really helped us. And that’s what we’re doing here.”
Maryland and Albany are set to kickoff at 7 p.m. ET in College Park this Thursday. The match will be streamed live on BTN+.
Albany Great Danes (14-4-2, 4-2-1 America East)
The Great Danes advanced to their second straight NCAA Tournament, clinching an automatic bid after win their conference tournament in penalty kicks on Sunday. Albany received a first-round bye as the No. 14 overall seed last season, but was eliminated by Clemson in the third round.
While Maryland hasn’t won since Oct. 13, Albany hasn’t lost since Oct. 14. In their only previous meeting, Maryland defeated the Great Danes, 4-0, at Ludwig Field in 2006.
Players to know
Senior forward Afonso Pinheiro, No. 11. An America East All-First team honoree, Pinheiro scored seven goals and had four assists. His 18 points ranks second on his team and fourth in the conference. He earned a regular season award from the America East in all four of his seasons at Albany.
Junior defender Daniel Krutzen, No. 15. Also a first team conference recipient, Krutzen has helped lead a Great Danes backline that has allowed just 14 goals in 20 games. He’s also contributed offensively, scoring four goals with seven assists.
Defense, first-half scoring. Albany ranks 14th in the country in goals allowed per game, conceding just 14 goals in its 20 matches this season. They’re a strong a tall team on the backline, which will pose a threat to what has been a struggling Terps offense. Offensively, the Great Danes have outscored their opponents 14-2 in the first half of matched, but just 19-12 in the second half and overtime.
Shots per game. While Albany scores at a pretty efficient clip, scoring a goal every 6.5 shots, it doesn’t generate a lot of chances on paper. The Great Danes rank 47th in the nation in goals per game (1.65), but 150th in shots per game (10.8). Maryland’s backline will be at full health, so it’ll be interesting to see if the Terps defense will concede as few shots as it did at the beginning of the season.
Three things to watch
- The defense is healthy. This might be a reach, but Maryland still hasn’t lost with the with the backline of Gasper, Donovan Pines, Johannes Bergmann and George Campbell. Pines missed two games with a concussion, and Cirvoski said Tuesday that even Bergmann has been playing through some pain. The defense will be back at full strength for the first time in over a month, which might prevent the “soft” goals Cirovski says his team allowed down the stretch.
- How will the attacking play perform? There’s no hiding that Maryland’s scoring offense went from ranked second in the country to 45th with basically the same personnel, but some of that has to do with tough breaks and post hits. It’s now or never for the offense to return to the form it should be performing at.
- Maryland hasn’t been eliminated in the first round since 2002. It’s been rare in recent history that the Terps haven’t received a bye during this round in the tournament. The last time the Terps played in the first round was in 2009, and they haven’t advanced past this round in 15 years. Cirovski has purchased pizza for The Crew’s tailgate and student admission will be free, so the team is hoping that Terps fans can overcome the cold and support the team in a loud environment.