When the Maryland men’s soccer team announced on Wednesday morning that freshman forward Brayan Padilla had suffered a torn ACL, it was yet another blow to a position that has already been ravaged by injuries early into the 2019 season.
Padilla, a budding attacker that had earned more playing time as the season has progressed, became the third Terp forward that would be forced to miss significant time this season. With Paul Bin tearing his ACL prior to the season, and sophomore midfielder/forward Will Hervé only appearing in two matches this season, Sasho Cirovski’s disposal of attackers has thinned further and further over just 10 games.
The Terps have seen absences of Bin and Hervé manifest themselves through the early part of the season, failing to scoring more than one goal in seven out of their first eight matches. But Cirovski, regardless of who’s out there, can’t help but be pleased with how they’ve developed as of late.
“What I’ve said from the beginning is we have a lot of young and new players and we’ve lost so many key pieces in the attack that it was gonna take some time,” Cirovski said following Maryland’s 2-0 win over Cal State Fullerton. “For a team that likes to press, and a team that likes to open the game and attack, it doesn’t just happen over a couple week preseason... Obviously the challenge keeps getting greater because we keep losing players, but so far we’re on the right path and I’m very pleased with that.”
Maryland’s offense, although it got off to a sluggish start to begin the season, has finally showed signs of looking like a formidable unit over its last few games. In their last three matches, the Terps have produced their best offensive output of the season over a three-game stretch. Generating five goals, 51 shots and 21 shots on goal, the attacking unit group appears to be figuring out how to properly space and time their possessions in the final third.
Helping lead the offensive resurgence for the Terps is forward and team captain Eric Matzelevich. The junior paces the team goals scored this season (3), while also leading the team in total shots (27) and shots on goal (11).
Although he has only contributed three goals and five assists over his first two seasons with the club, Matzelevich has now grown into being one of the team’s leading offensive threats for Maryland under the pressure of being one of the few remaining upperclassmen forwards that hasn’t been sidelined by an injury.
“It’s just more kinda fuel to just keep going and keep trying to find those opportunities and keep trying to find goals,” Matzelevich said. “You have that pressure, and you definitely wanna rise to the occasion.”
But the most significant development over the previous three games has been the emergence of the more unheralded forwards and midfielders on the team. Freshmen Malcolm Johnston, Justin Harris and David Kovacic have all seen extended time on the pitch as a result of injuries, and are beginning to come on for the Terps as of late.
“Collectively, as an offensive unit, we just kinda remember those guys in the back of our head, and remember that their still part of the team,” Matzelevich said. “It’s more fuel to just to keep working as hard as an offense, keep creating those opportunities and keep trying to be more relentless in the attack.”
Perhaps what has been more impressive, though, than the offense’s production has been Cirovski’s firm control of the locker room despite the amount of hits it has taken so far in 2019. Through two ACL tears and a laundry list of other injuries, Cirovski has kept the team unwavering in their approach to each match.
“I’ve had a couple of rough years with injuries,” Cirovski said. “[The 2000 season] was the worst ever but this is getting to be a close second. We’ve had some guys come in and step up, obviously guys like Justin Harris and Malcolm Johnston have come in... Collectively, we’ve had a lot of guys that have done a really nice job to pick up the pieces.”
For a team that’s be solid (and healthy) on the defensive side of the field for most the 2019 campaign, things finally clicking on the offensive side could hint at what this team looks like when they’re firing on all cylinders.
With the Terp backline snuffing out any and all opposing opportunities, and the top of the Maryland formation playing more connected than they ever have this season, Cirovski’s club has the look of a team that can legitimately contend for another title.
“I wouldn’t even say there’s a ceiling to us, Maryland’s often been associated with a strong attack,” Matzelevich said. “When those [former offensive Maryland players] graduate and it’s your time to step up, you’re not only playing for yourself but you’re playing for those guys in the past and you just kinda wanna replicate what it’s like to keep that Maryland attack going.”