Maryland men’s soccer will open its 2019 campaign against South Florida on Thursday, returning to Ludwig Field for the first time since Nov. 18, 2018.
The new-look Terps and Bulls are set to kick off at 8 p.m. ET, marking the first time the two teams have squared off since 2016, in which Maryland took a 4-1 victory. With seniors Eli Crognale, Johannes Bergmann and junior Eric Matzelevich serving as team captains for the year, head coach Sasho Cirovski hopes to get the team out on the right foot to begin the season.
South Florida Bulls
2018 record: 7-8-2 (4-1-2 AAC)
Head coach Bob Butehorn will begin his third year at the helm for the Bulls on Thursday night after spending the previous 10 seasons as head coach at Florida Gulf Coast. He hasn’t been able to keep USF playing .500 ball through his first two seasons, posting a combined record of 13-14-6 between the 2017 and 2018 seasons, but will be looking to elevate the program to new heights in 2019.
Players to know
Junior forward Adrian Billhardt (No. 8) figures to inherit an even larger share of the USF offense in his third season with the program. Billhardt appeared in 16 of the team’s 17 matches as a sophomore in 2018, making starts in 13 of those contests. He tallied a team-high 16 points (five goals, six assists) in 2017 to earn himself conference Rookie of the Year, while averaging 0.47 assists per game last season — a mark that was second-best in the conference.
Junior defender Avionne Flanagan (No. 27) joins Billhardt as the lone two on the team named to the preseason All-AAC team. The Baltimore native logged nearly 1,000+ minutes in each of his first two seasons under Butehorn, making 16 starts last season and solidifying his spot USF’s back line.
Junior midfielder Emilio Ycaza (No. 18) is one of just three players remaining from last season’s roster to appear in all 17 of the team’s matches. He totaled nine points on three goals and three assists, and finished third on the team in total minutes played with 1,351.
Scoring offense. After finishing with a top 50 scoring offense in 2017, Butehorn elevated the Bulls to a top 20 scoring offense in 2018 with 1.94 goals per game. That mark was good for second-best in the conference, and although he’s without several of his top scorers from last season, Butehorn has proven he can get quality offensive play out of his squads.
Allowing goals. Although finding success on the opposite side of the field, the Bulls struggled to keep their opposition from scoring last season. In 17 matches, their goals against average checked in at 1.68, good for 158th best in Division I. For a Terp attack with plenty of new faces that are still developing chemistry, USF’s defense could offer a decent opportunity for some of those guys to get 2019 started with a bang.
Three things to watch
1. How will the fresh faces perform? Having lost key players of the likes of Amar Sedjič, Dayne St. Clair and Donovan Pines, it’s on this year’s team captains to carry the torch into 2019. With Crognale, Bergmann, and Matzelevich now being the elder statesmen of the squad, the onus will be on them to get both the starting eleven and the rest of the team ready for action on Thursday.
“I think [the new guys] are doing a really good job,” Crognale said. “[They’re] meshing in the locker room and kind of having that Maryland soccer player mentality.”
2. Who will make a statement in the battle for starting keeper? Cirovski announced on Tuesday that the battle for who will start between the sticks is still ongoing, but that redshirt freshman Russell Shealy will get the start on Thursday night. Freshman Niklas Neumann is expected to be worked in as well, but Cirovski didn’t appear to be committing to any one keeper anytime soon.
“Russell has had a good preseason and a very good spring,” Cirovski said. “We may rotate through the first few games, I’m sure Niklas will get an opportunity at some point, but Russell will start on Thursday and that’s where we’re at.”
3. Is USF capable of pulling off the upset? Despite going 0-6-1 against ranked teams over the past two seasons, the Bulls have played their opponents close in those contests. Three out of their four losses to ranked opponents last season were decided by a goal, including a match against then-No. 7 Michigan State in which they lost just 1-0. Given their lack of live, on-field experience, this likely being the most vulnerable Maryland will be all season, making this USF’s best chance at an upset over a top team.