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Previewing the 2021 Maryland men’s soccer season

The Terps have the depth to go far this season, but the young guns will need to step up big time.

Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics

After a delayed start to the season due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Maryland men’s soccer looks to make another postseason trip under head coach Sasho Cirovski into 2021.

Cirovski’s squad went 11-8-2 last season, including just 3-3-2 in conference play. They team fell to Indiana in the semifinals of the Big Ten tournament before suffering a defeat at the hands of Wake Forest in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

The Terps still figure to be near the top of the Big Ten due to their depth and abundance of returning players. The season begins on Feb. 19, as Maryland opens up its season on the road against Penn State.

Here’s how they shape up.

Key players lost

The Terps are certainly lucky to have an abundance of depth on both ends of the pitch, however, there are a few key departures that will surely have a negative impact in the long run.

The likes of Eli Crognale, Ben Di Rosa, Matt Di Rosa, Luke Brown, Fola Adetola and Johannes Bergmann have all officially left the Maryland program. The most significant departures are the Di Rosa twins and Crognale.

The Di Rosa brothers, who were both staples in the midfield and on the back end, were drafted into the MLS and decided to forgo the 2021 season.

“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.

“I mean, huge loss for the program,” forward Paul Bin said of the Di Rosa’s forgoing the upcoming season. “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.”

Looking at Crognale, he was another key cog in the midfield that will be sorely missed. The midfielder was named to the 2019 United Soccer Coaches All-North Region Second Team, the 2019 All-Big Ten First Team and the 2018 College Cup All-Tournament Team.

Despite these key departures, the Terps have plenty of talented young players waiting in the wings for the upcoming season.

Returning players

The Terps are fortunate enough to have a treasure trove of returning players to make another postseason run.

Maryland is returning the majority of their top players, including Paul Bin, Eric Matzelevich, Brett St. Martin and Niklas Neumann.

The most significant player to return to the field could quite possibly be Bin, who redshirted his senior campaign last season due to an ACL injury on the first day of preseason training. Bin was named a captain for the 2021 season and will be a key player on offense that can open up the field brilliantly.

On both ends of the pitch, the Terps are getting back Matzelevich and St. Martin, who are both staples on the roster. Matzelevich was named to the 2019 Second Team All-Big Ten team and scored six goals in 21 matches for the Terps that same season. St. Martin is the only upperclassman heading into this season on the defensive end, and he helped the Terps secure 11 clean sheets in 2019.

Neumann is back with the Terps after a strong debut season with Maryland. The sophomore collected nine shutouts in 18 matches in 2019. Neumann was named to the 2019 All-Big Ten Second Team and the 2019 Big Ten All-Tournament Team.

Looking aside from the core players returning, Maryland is welcoming back a plethora of familiar faces. Justin Gielen, who is expected to take a step forward, is entering his junior season with five career goals. Nick Richardson, Malcolm Johnston, Justin Harris, David Kovavic, Brayan Padilla and Issac Ngobu are all back with Maryland and will surely all compete for playing time.

New additions

The make or break storyline for Maryland could be the adaptation of the young talents on the pitch early on in the season.

The Terps are gaining eight new freshman players for the 2021 season. Just one of those incoming freshmen, Ben Bender, is a native of Maryland.

Other than Bender, the team is being joined by goalkeeper Jamie Lowell, defenders Kento Abe, Alex Nitzl, midfielders Joshua Bolma, Henry Hamilton and Joe Suchecki, as well as forward Jacen Russell-Rowe. Suchecki played for New York City FC Academy under coach Matt Pilkington and helped NYCFC win the U-19 US Soccer Development Academy National Championship before coming to Maryland.

In a COVID-19 world of unpredictability, it might not be so easy for the incoming freshman to have an eye-opening impact. However, it seems that the young guys are already showing positives thus far.

“I would say the biggest impression that I’ve gotten is that these guys are really dedicated,” Gielen said. “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.”

Gielen recently spoke of Bender, a 6-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 every week,” Gielen said. “He’s a hard worker, he’s one of those dedicated kids that’s always staying after.”

Looking ahead

Maryland will play 10 Big Ten games this season in what will surely be a quick race to the finish line.

The Terps open up their season on Feb. 19 against a strong Penn State team that finished with 12 wins last season. It’s a tough matchup right out of the gates for Maryland and it will surely be a difficult game to open the season.

“They’re a tough team to play against,” Cirovski said. “Obviously it’ll be our first game so we’re not sure of what all their new players are like and what they’re going to look like, but all I know is that we’ll be ready.”

After the match against the Nittany Lions, the Terps are swiftly awarded their bye week. The first home game for Maryland comes against Ohio State on Feb. 27.

Maryland faces off against Penn State and Rutgers twice this season and will have a matchup with rival Indiana for the last regular season matchup on April 4. The Terps will also take on Wisconsin, Michigan, Michigan State and Northwestern to round out the regular season.