An hour before Maryland men’s soccer kicked off its 2017 Big Ten opener against Indiana, students were lined up all along the perimeter of the parking lot.
It's No. 5 Maryland and No. 4 Indiana. They're giving out scarves, and the line is stretching all the way to the damn Marriott. pic.twitter.com/vzA1bXf00V— Thomas Kendziora (@TKendziora37) September 8, 2017
It’s the type of line you’d see at Cedar Point or Six Flags, but the destination isn’t a roller coaster with 90 mph max speeds. These kids are waiting for scarves. It’s an annual giveaway, and the Terps decided no time was better than a top-five matchup between the No. 5-ranked Terps and No. 4 Hoosiers.
The prizes celebrate Maryland coach Sasho Cirovski, who’s in his 25th year with the program. Friday’s scoreless draw with Indiana moved Cirovski’s career record at Maryland to 368-132-46.
An announced crowd of 6,981 surrounded all four sides of the field Friday. Last week against UCLA, the Terps drew 7,532. They average over 4,000, the best figure in the NCAA. This is all Cirovski’s doing. He built attendance up early in his Maryland career, and students have been flocking to Ludwig Field in droves since. “The Crew” is such a part of the team’s identity that its name is sandwiched into the middle of Cirovski’s new Maryland Dairy ice cream flavor.
But behind all that sweetness is a team with a message to send to the rest of the country.
For a program with such high annual expectations, the last handful of years have been a lull of sorts. Maryland hasn’t made the College Cup (soccer’s equivalent to the Final Four) since 2013, and no Maryland senior class has graduated without reaching that stage since 1997. Last year was a golden opportunity: the Terps entered the NCAA Tournament as the No. 1 overall seed, boasting an 18-0-2 record. But they dropped their first game to Providence in the second round, as a 4-1 lead in the 70th minute quickly turned into a 5-4 defecit Maryland couldn’t overcome.
It’s generally counterproductive to spend a full season harping on the previous year’s heartbreak. But that’s the type of loss that hovers over a team like a storm cloud, and it won’t float away until well after the hurdle is cleared in November.
Maryland returns all its starting forwards and midfielders from last year’s team, and while the defense was a question mark entering this season, the Terps have been effective on that end. This year’s team is still unbeaten at 4-0-1, and is at least the co-favorite in the Big Ten alongside Indiana. If the Terps win the conference title again, it’ll be their fourth in as many years.
However, Friday’s result shows just how far Maryland still needs to go. Indiana’s defense stifled the Terps most of the night, and Maryland failed to capitalize on the chances it did have, finishing the night without a shot on goal.
“We were the second-best team on the field tonight,” Cirovski said after the game, adding that he couldn’t recall a game when the Terps didn’t record a single shot on target.
Still, shutting out the No. 4 team in the country wasn’t an easy feat. It took a career night from redshirt sophomore goalkeeper Dayne St. Clair (six saves) and a strong defensive effort. As the Terps enter conference play, they have an idea of where they stand, and where they need to go from here.
“These are the types of games we have to use to make us better,” Cirovski said. And if his 25-year track record at Maryland is any indication, that’s what the Terps will do.