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Maryland men’s soccer’s annual rivalry match with UCLA carries a little extra meaning this season

The Terps won the 2019 College Cup the last time they were in California, but remain focused at the task at hand in the Bruins.

NCAA Soccer: DI Men’s College Cup-Maryland vs Akron Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

Nearly a year removed from its magical postseason run that culminated in the hoisting of the College Cup trophy, the Maryland men’s soccer team still fondly remembers the last time they traveled to California for a match.

“It’s kind of déjà vu,” senior defender Johannes Bergmann said. “It’s definitely a big game, so it’s nice to go to the west coast and play UCLA.”

Nine months ago, the Terps suited up for two matches in Santa Barbara, California, winning the semi-final and championship games of the College Cup tournament. Now, playing two hours east of where the College Cup matches were held, Maryland looks to block out any nostalgia and focus on taking care of business as they make their return to SoCal.

“Obviously we have memories of what the College Cup was,” defender Brett St. Martin said. “But we’re a new team and we have more goals to set now and we’re not dwelling on the past we’re looking forward to the future.”

This Friday’s match won’t carry as much significance as Maryland’s previous two in California did, but it still will be an important contest for both sides. The Terps and Bruins have a budding rivalry brewing between the two programs, facing off against each other in 13 out of the last 18 seasons. The two squads began playing annually since 2015, with the intensity rising in each since.

“The last two games we had were big games, you could really feel the rivalry,” Bergmann said. “I think it’s going to be a big game again.”

The Terps are 6-4-2 in their all-time series against UCLA, going 2-1-1 since both teams started playing each year again. But when the teams met last September, Maryland fell 1-0 in a down to the wire contest in which Maryland goalkeeper Dayne St. Clair made five saves.

Both sides typically enter the now-annual match as a pair of top teams in the country, but this time Maryland comes in as the (supposed) favorite. Despite losing 2-0 to another rival in No. 7 Virginia in game that saw a 500+ minute scoreless streak on defense come to an end, the Terps still check in at No. 3 in the country and are still within reach of reclaiming the top spot.

On the other hand, UCLA has yet to be ranked in 2019, tumbling even further down the Division I ranks following a double-overtime loss to No. 2 Indiana last Sunday. But the Terps aren’t letting their guard down, recognizing that the Bruins still have plenty of talent to mount an upset.

“We’re coming into every game like a heavyweight fight, and we’ve gotta be ready for the first punch,” head coach Sasho Cirovski said. “I’d like to be one that gives the first punch rather than takes the first punch.”

Likely contributing to UCLA’s slow start is the complete overhaul in head coaching that the team underwent following last season. Their former head coach, Jorge Salcedo, coached the Bruins for nearly 15 years before he was forced to resign following an indictment by a federal grand jury for conspiracy to commit racketeering relating to the 2019 college admissions bribery scandal. But even without that familiar face that has led UCLA to excellence since his arrival, Cirovski still believes UCLA is one of the top programs in the country.

“The game isn’t between the coaches it’s between the players and the programs,” Cirovski said. “UCLA has become a major game for us every year. We didn't like the way last year’s ended so motivation shouldn’t be a problem for us.”

Although the Terps come into Cali with a fairly different set of circumstances surrounding both them and their opponent, they hope the west coast brings more some of the same success they had last season this time around.

“We have some very good California feelings from last year, and hopefully we can use it as a catapult to regain some of our mojo,” Cirovski said.