After a bitter and disappointing end to a promising 2016 season, Maryland men’s soccer returned to the field this March and April to try out the team’s newest signings and give all of us a preview of next year.
The Terps’ first game was against Clemson, a squad that made it to last year’s Elite Eight in the NCAA Tournament; the Tigers won the contest, 3-2. Maryland then went on to face the Philadelphia Union reserves, where the final scoreline read 1-1. To close out March, Maryland faced UNC, last year’s College Cup runner-up, in a scoreless tie.
In April, the Terps tied again with the Harrisburg City Islanders, 1-1, before finishing out the spring schedule with a dominant 2-0 home win over the Hartford Hawks, Maryland head coach Sasho Cirovski’s former team.
Based on the results, let’s take a look at what we can expect to come next fall.
The Terps have a new-look defense
With starting goalkeeper Cody Niedermeier and defenders Alex Crognale, Suli Dainkeh and Chris Odoi-Atsem all graduating, Cirovski needed to completely reimagine his defense for next year. But it looks like he’s been two steps ahead this entire time.
Starting 11 vs. Philadelphia Union Reserves.. Final Score 1-1. pic.twitter.com/YoqPcEJY9p— Maryland Soccer (@MarylandMSoccer) March 12, 2017
Canadian Under-20 goalkeeper Dayne St. Clair will have big shoes to fill as he replaces Niedermeier, who was an absolute stalwart between the sticks during his five-year tenure with the Terps.
Miles Stray will replace Crognale in the lineup at right center-back. Donovan Pines, who played significant minutes during the 2016 season, slotting in next to Crognale while Dainkeh shifted out wide to left-back, will almost surely be Cirovski’s first-choice center-back. However, without the senior support next to Pines, time will only tell if he, and this young defense, is able to adjust.
It also looks like sophomore Connor Smith, listed as a midfielder, has been pushed back into defense at left-back. Junior midfielder/forward George Campbell, who was the Terps’ valuable “12th man” last year, played the spring schedule at right-back as well, so it seems Cirovski is already adapting his players to play out of their natural position to add experience to the back-line.
Cirovski is experimenting with midfield formations
Last year’s lineups were pretty much set in stone: four defenders, four midfielders, and two forwards. However, we’re already seeing Cirovski change up the midfielders and attackers this time around.
Starting 11 For Maryland vs. Clemson today at 1PM. pic.twitter.com/V4dJdKdUAR— Maryland Soccer (@MarylandMSoccer) March 4, 2017
In the first game against Clemson, Cirovski fielded a 4-3-3 formation, pushing last year’s leading scorer Gordon Wild out wide to the right wing and playing with two attacking midfielders, Amar Sejdic and Jake Rozhansky, instead of just one. Freshman midfielder Luca Levee was chosen to fill the center defensive midfielder role.
Against the Philadelphia Union reserves, Cirovski switched back to a diamond midfield, with Andrew Samuels, who played most of last year at left-back, in that defensive midfield role. It will be interesting to see who the Maryland head coach finally ends up choosing to replace Cody Albrecht, another graduate from this past season and one of Maryland’s most dependable players in 2016, when the regular season rolls around.
Gordon Wild is still lethal
Wild’s 17 goals in 2016 sure don’t look like a fluke. He returned to the scoresheet in the home win over Hartford, and by the looks of things, he will continue to provide the same level of offensive threat in 2017.
The German international transferred to Maryland from USC Upstate last year, after scoring 16 goals in his freshman season.
If Cirovski does end up choosing to go with the 4-3-3, in which Wild plays as a right-winger instead of a striker, it’ll be interesting to see how he changes his game. As we can see here, Wild is a natural finisher, and he should have no problem cutting in on his preferred left foot to score.
However, as a right-winger, Wild will have his work cut out for him since he’s been able to run onto the ball rather than dribbling past defenders in the past.
Based on these five performances, it looks like this team is still evolving and adapting to losing five starting seniors from the 2016 season.
But all the offensive pieces from Cirovski’s team will be coming back, and that’s something to be hopeful about — the Terps still have enough star-power to make a deep championship run. It looks like the immediate future is still bright.