After kicking off the 2019 campaign with a 1-0 win over USF, the No. 1 Maryland men’s soccer team failed to keep its season undefeated, losing 2-0 to No. 12 Virginia in the Battle for the DMV Monday night.
While on the outside it might appear to be a devastating defeat for the defending national champions, for coach Sasho Cirovski, it’s simply part of his master plan. He intentionally schedules tough matchups early in the year to give his team things to work on. Last season, the Terrapins faced four ranked opponents in nonconference play early on, which helped strengthen ties within the squad en route to its title run.
“This is why I schedule this game,” Cirovski said. “This will make us stronger and we’re going to be a work in progress.”
And there was a lot the Terps can improve on following the loss, including breaking down on defense and allowing back-to-back Cavalier goals in the 21st and 23rd minutes.
“This team has to learn to become the hunter again,” Cirovski said. “We’ve been preaching to them that teams will be coming with their ‘A-game’ every game and we have to make sure that we bring not only a level of intensity, but quality with us as well.”
Before facing a road test against west coast foe UCLA, Maryland plans to work on taking better care of the ball and improving link-up play along the front line. Cirovski pointed out a lack of ideas at the forward position, which has become increasingly depleted throughout the early season.
When sloppy play upfront is paired with struggles at the back against a team like Virginia that can hold up play, it spells for a disaster of an evening. And that’s exactly what came about at Audi Field.
“We’ve just got to learn from this game and realize that we weren’t at our best,” defender Ben Di Rosa said. “The nice thing about the college season is it’s a quick turnaround, so we got UCLA in a few days, and we just got to move on from it quickly.”
At halftime, the Terrapins decided to switch formations to a 3-5-2, a change that allowed for more chances — including four second half corner kicks — but ultimately there was no answer on the score sheet.
Cirovski noted that the team may have to experiment with new formations going forward, and the shift against Virginia was an indication that everything is on the table.
Outside of formation changes, the team simply needs to clean up play on both sides of the ball as the tough schedule pushes on. The offense will look to focus on holding play in its own, while the defense will use this week of practice to work on pressing more as a unit. Once the two sides of the field hone in on their crafts, it will simply become a task of connecting them together.
Last season, Maryland failed to score in the first 476 minutes of its campaign, but does not want to be defined by that struggle in 2019.
“It’s something we can learn from, but we want to write a new chapter this year,” forward Eric Matzelevich said.
The 2019 season is one that will likely be defined by the new faces and young core of this year’s squad, but even champions require growth and it will be expected moving forward.
“We’re still trying to find ourselves right now,” Cirovski noted, before quickly adding:“We will find ourselves.”