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Maryland men's soccer team back where it belongs

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Sports,College,Craig Stouffer

Terps' return to NCAA semifinals fueled by their attack

You're going to have to forgive the Maryland men's soccer team if it walks into the College Cup acting as if it owns the place.

All season long the Terrapins (20-1-2) were up against a record that really mattered only in College Park: Every four-year player that has been through Maryland since 1994 had reached the final four. In danger after last year's third-round NCAA tournament exit, coach Sasho Cirovski wasn't about to let the streak end in his 20th season at the helm.

College Cup
No. 3 Georgetown vs. No. 2 Maryland
When » Friday, 5 p.m.
Where » Regions Field,
Hoover, Ala.
TV » ESPNU
Notes » Georgetown and Maryland last met in the NCAA tournament in 1994, a game won 4-3 in overtime by the Terrapins. ... The two teams play a contrasting brand of soccer. The quick and skilled Terps can be direct and like to get players in the box. The Hoyas prefer to control possession for longer periods and wear down opposing defenses.
... Maryland has refused to schedule Georgetown in any sport until a stalemate between the schools' men's basketball programs is resolved. "When you're a coach, you're a part of a team," Maryland coach Sasho Cirovski said. "When my coaches make decisions, we support them."

"We feel that's where we belong," Cirovski said.

It may be manufactured pressure, but it is also an everyday reality for a program that has won two titles and is in the national semifinals for the seventh time during Cirovski's tenure.

"We know how hard we work gives us the confidence to be able to talk like that," senior midfielder John Stertzer (Flint Hill School) said. "We put the work in that needs to be done."

Cirovski helped by loading his roster like never before. Even if it doesn't entirely resemble his last championship team in 2008 -- eight of that squad's starting 11 in the final were drafted by teams in Major League Soccer -- this season's Terps are by far the deepest and most explosive team (NCAA-leading 2.61 goals per game) in the country.

"They go to goal, they love scoring goals and they don't care if it takes them one pass or 20 passes," Georgetown coach Brian Wiese said. "They'll do it all different ways."

It starts with junior forward and MAC Hermann Trophy finalist Patrick Mullins (16 goals, eight assists). But 10 players have scored more than one goal, and 13 have at least two assists. Jake Pace (five goals, three assists) and Christiano Francois (four goals, four assists), both substitutes, are Maryland's fourth- and fifth-leading scorers.

"It's always a good problem to have, with players who can step off the bench, step on the field and raise the level," said Stertzer (seven goals, six assists). "Being able to see a lot of the young guys work hard for those minutes and be able to shine is a great feeling."

As they did in 2008, the Terps went undefeated during their spring season. Cirovski believes they're "diamond tough" and the best prepared team in the country.

"We've worked hard to make ourselves the biggest bull's-eye in college soccer," he said. "I don't mind putting pressure on our team and our players."

cstouffer@washingtonexaminer.com

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