Maryland men’s soccer will face adversity even before the season gets underway on Feb. 19 on the road against Penn State.
Matt and Ben Di Rosa, who were key cogs to the Terps’ 2018 Men’s College Cup run at left and right back, both recently announced that they will both forgo the 2021 men’s soccer season and join their respective MLS clubs for the start of preseason training in February.
The talented duo made its mark on Maryland over the past few seasons and will difficult for head coach Sasho Cirovski’s squad to replace for this upcoming campaign.
“Obviously it’s a huge loss to our team, because you have two young men who are the bookends of our backline and sort of one of the backbones of our team,” Cirovski said. “Just incredible kids, you know, they do everything right in the classroom, off the field, but the time was right for them to go and compete for contract.”
Matt Di Rosa was selected as the No. 25 overall selection by Toronto FC in the MLS SuperDraft. He was a staple on the Terps’ defense for the past few seasons, highlighted by his versatility at left back. In 2018 as a sophomore, Di Rosa started in 12 games and notched the game-winning goal over Indiana in the national semifinal.
Ben Di Rosa was taken as the No. 44 overall pick by New York City FC, making the brothers the first pair of twins to be selected in the MLS SuperDraft. Di Rosa played most of his time at right back for the Terps and provided a consistency that will certainly be hard to replicate for this upcoming season. In 2019, Di Rosa started in all 21 games and chipped in with two assists and one goal.
The storyline in the early portion of the season will be how Cirovski and the Terps work around the loss of the Di Rosa brothers. The backline for Maryland is shifting to its younger players and recruits, but Cirovski said he doesn’t believe that they’ll be much of a drop off in defensive play.
Cirovski, who has led the Terps to 25 NCAA Tournament appearances in 27 seasons, believes players such as redshirt sophomore Nick Richardson, freshman Kento Abe and redshirt sophomore Ryan Blumberg will have the opportunities to fill the shoes of the Di Rosas.
Richardson as a versatile midfielder and defender that can be utilized all over the field, Cirovski said. The Baltimore native was named to the 2019 Big Ten All-Freshman Team. As a sophomore, Richardson started in 21 games for the Terps. Now he’ll have a great opportunity to expand his role this season, primarily on the defensive side of the ball.
Another player that the head coach named was sophomore defender Isaac Ngobu, who played just four matches as a reserve player for the Terps in 2019. He played a season high 44 minutes in the first round of the NCAA Tournament against Iona on Nov. 21, 2019.
“Isaac Ngobu, who’s another good little success story, he’s really showing a lot of improvement from the first year to where he’s at now and he’s certainly in the mix right now to potentially be left back as well,” Cirovski said.
The chemistry that the Di Rosa brothers built with the other Maryland players will be extremely difficult to replace. The relationships that the twins made on and off the field will certainly be remembered by the current Terps that hope to find the same success on the pitch without them in 2021.
“Those guys, they’re great examples on and off the field,” forward Justin Gielen said. “And I know that sounds really cliche, but they are the epitome of role models and examples.”
Redshirt senior Paul Bin, who is the longest tenured player on the roster and a captain for the 2021 season reiterated the same message about the Di Rosas.
“I mean, huge loss for the program,” Bin said. “We know how good they are, I’m sure all of you guys know how good they are, probably the most consistent players I think I’ve ever seen in my lifetime.”
However, even with the Terps entering a new era with their backline heading into the new season, there are plenty of bright spots that the team’s veteran players have noticed.
“I would say the biggest impression that I’ve gotten is that these guys are really dedicated,” Gielen said of the younger players on the team. “I’d say most of them are staying after practice to get extra touches, extra passes, extra shots, crosses, all that sort of thing and it’s contagious.”
One specific player that Gielen mentioned was Ben Bender, a six-foot freshman midfielder from Parkville, Maryland, that has a lot of positive noise surrounding his abilities on the field.
Cirovski called Bender a “sublimely skillful attacking player” who is both a “creator and a finisher.” The freshman was a four-year starter at Calvert Hall and scored 15 goals in his senior season. Bender was named a 2019 Allstate All-American for his efforts.
“He’s good, he’s really good, I’m continually impressed by him more and more so like every week,” Gielen said. “He’s a hard worker, he’s one of those dedicated kids that’s always staying after.”
The Di Rosa brothers will not be easily replaced though. They were both strong defenders that made vital impacts on the field and they played with a consistency that will be hard to match by anyone that ends up filling their spots.
“We’re losing two of the best kids in the country, but we’ve got enough quality that, you know, there’ll be no excuses,” Cirovski said. “We’re competing and playing to win.”