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Maryland men’s soccer looks to avenge early exit from 2016 NCAA Tournament

It’s time to preview the 2017 Terps.

Men's soccer huddle Kai Buck Dambach

The Maryland men’s soccer team was on its way to compete for a fourth National Championship last year, spending most of the season as the No. 1 team in the country. But after an undefeated regular season and a third straight Big Ten title, the Terps lost to Providence in the Second Round of the NCAA Tournament.

Even though Maryland’s first loss at Ludwig Field in over a year curtailed their championship hopes, Sasho Cirovski’s team is motivated heading into the 2017 season and won all three of their exhibition matches.

The Terps beat St. John’s 2-1 to start the preseason behind a pair of first-half goals from sophomore defender Miles Stray and junior forward DJ Reeves. The following morning against American, freshman Eric Matzelevich scored twice and redshirt senior Emmanuel Korvah knocked in a third goal to clinch Maryland’s second win in the opening weekend of the preseason.

In a better preseason test, Maryland completed a second straight shutout, beating No. 8 Syracuse 3-0 thanks to a Gordon Wild first-half hat trick. The Terps, who allowed just 1.08 goals per game in 2016, conceded just one goal in their three exhibitions despite graduating three of the four starting defenders and their goalkeeper.

What happened last year

Three victories over top-25 teams and a streak of five straight clean sheets in the middle of the season helped the Terps to an 18-1-2 record in 2016. The team’s pair of ties both came on the road against No. 16 UCLA and No. 4 Indiana. Maryland later ran the table to claim their third straight Big Ten title and fifth straight conference title dating back to the final two years in the ACC.

Maryland scored the second-most goals per game in the country (2.52), behind the help of sophomore USC Upstate transfer Gordon Wild’s 17 goals in 21 games. Wild was the Big Ten Player of the Year, helping represent the Terps alongside teammates Alex Crognale (Defensive Player of the Year) and Cody Niedermeier (Goalkeeper of the Year).

Who’s in, who’s out

Maryland returns 84 percent of its goals from last season. The Terps scored 51 times (plus two own goals) in 2016 and are only losing players who combined for eight scores last season. All eight of those goals lost came from graduating defenders, so the Terps lost literally no offensive production.

The major loss in the midfield is Cody Albrecht, who started in all 21 games last season. While he didn’t score and only had two assists, he was a vital facilitator and helped control the pace in the middle of the field.

The big question mark heading into the season is the Terps’ backline, which graduated three of its four starting defenders. With Crognale, Chris Odoi-Atsem and Suli Dankeh gone, only Andrew Samuels returns as a starting defender. Niedermeier, who allowed just 1.08 goals per game last season, also graduated after last season.

Samuels will presumably return to the starting lineup. Another quality candidate is sophomore Donovan Pines, who only started three times in 2016 but appeared in 17 of the Terps’ 21 games. Senior midfielder Jake Rozhansky and sophomore Miles Stray both received starts on defense in the preseason, as did transfers Chase Gasper (UCLA) and Johannes Bergmann (Germany).

Redshirt sophomore Dayne St. Clair will likely be the starting goalkeeper this year, with two freshmen joining the roster as well. St. Clair started in two games in 2015 and allowed just three goals in 180 minutes.

What to expect

The Big Ten coaches already weighed in on the conference’s preseason poll, and they unanimously picked Maryland to win the conference for a fourth straight season. The culture of Maryland soccer is to compete for conference and national championships every season, and there’s no reason 2017 should be any different.

The Terps return nearly all of their offensive firepower, including Wild, who was named to the MAC Hermann Trophy Watch List. While the Terps lost most of their starting defenders and their goalkeeper, Maryland has ample bodies to fill those spots.

Even though the preseason doesn’t count, No. 6 Maryland’s last exhibition against No. 8 Syracuse gave insight into what fans cant expect when the regular season begins. After 2016 came to a sudden and surprising end, the Terps’ new journey to rise to the top will restart Friday on the road against Santa Clara at 10:30 p.m. ET.