Maryland enters year with high expectations
In the second decade of Sasho Cirovski's tenure as Maryland men's soccer coach, it's become an almost annual ritual for players to leave College Park early for the professional ranks and to reach the NCAA Final Four.
Neither happened last year, making for a perfect mix of both experience (eight returning starters) and expectations (picked to finish first in the ACC) ahead of Cirovski's 20th season.
"We're contenders every year," said Cirovski, who won his second national title in 2008 but hasn't been to the Final Four since. "But if we don't bring at least one championship home this year, whether it's an ACC or a national championship, this will be a failure."
|Louisville at Maryland|
|When » Sunday, 7 p.m.|
|Where » Ludwig Field,|
Taylor Kemp, one of three seniors who hasn't played for an NCAA title, had MLS knocking at his door last winter, desperate for his services at the hard-to-fill left back position.
"It really wasn't something that came down to me," Kemp said. "It was something that the circumstances were going to make for me. It depended on how deep we went in the tournament, how happy I was with our season, with myself personally. ... When the season came to an end, it wasn't on terms that I was happy with, and so it made it pretty easy for me, that I knew I wanted to stay."
It's not that last year was a bad one. Maryland actually got off to its best start since 1968. But the Terrapins finished with a 4-2 loss to Louisville in the third round of the NCAA tournament, the third straight year they gave up at least three goals in their final game of the season.
So the decision was easy for returning leading scorer John Stertzer, a Flint Hill graduate who exploded for 14 goals last year: Spend the offseason on campus.
"I did that before my junior year and had a great year so I feel I wanted to keep doing the same thing, keep taking the right steps," Stertzer said. "My main focus is Maryland. It's not going anywhere else."
Starting center back London Woodberry, who is affiliated with FC Dallas, did the same. His pairing with Kemp will be crucial in front of one of three underclassmen goalkeepers (two sophomores, one freshman).
"This team is very connected," Kemp said. "I think the players that are all returning, that comfort level makes a big difference in big games and key moments. I think that'll be a real strength of ours this year."
The most notable among Cirovski's newest players are two attacking talents: Zimbabwean freshman and Episcopal High graduate Schillo Tshuma and Mikey Ambrose, another product of the very successful FC Dallas development academy program.
"It's a fun team," Cirovski said. "Technically, we're probably better all over the field than we've been maybe for a few years. I think this team has enough hurt from the last couple of years to really stay tuned in until the end and finish strong."