Third time’s the charm, or at least that’s what the Maryland men’s soccer team hopes to be true as it takes on Indiana in the Final Four of the NCAA Tournament on Friday night.
The No. 11-seed Terps (11-6-4), according to head coach Sasho Cirovski, are on the path to redemption, and they have proven that in this tournament with two upset wins over No. 6-seed Duke and No. 3-seed Kentucky.
Though many see Maryland as the underdog, Cirovski knew all along that his team had the strength to make it to college soccer’s biggest stage.
“It’s a place where I think we belong,” Cirovski said. “We showed our resolve. We showed our strength. We showed our belief, and now we’ve shown our quality.”
Maryland has not reached the College Cup since the 2013 season, in which they defeated Virginia 2-1 in the semifinal but lost to Notre Dame by the same score in the championship. Breaking the five-year drought, the Terps will have a familiar team standing between them and a national-championship berth.
The No. 2-seed Indiana (20-2-1) and Maryland, two of the three Big Ten teams in the Final Four, have played two times already this season— once in the regular season and then in the Big Ten Tournament semifinals— and the Hoosiers are 2-0.
The first match in the regular season came down to the wire, as the two were locked at 1-1 for most of the second half. Indiana’s senior leftback Andrew Gutman, a MAC Hermann Trophy semifinalist, scored the Hoosiers’ first goal in the first half. And then with only 18 seconds left, Gutman scored once again to seal the Indiana win.
Meeting again in the Big Ten Tournament semifinals, the drama intensified even more. Gutman scored again on the Terps, this time breaking through at least four Maryland players en route to the goal. The Terps fought back in the 72nd minute to equalize with a goal from sophomore Ben Di Rosa, but the game was forced to two overtimes and then ultimately decided by penalty kicks with the Hoosiers advancing.
“I can’t wait to play them again and compete at that level where we played them in the Big Ten,” Pines said. “I just can’t wait to get out there and face Gutman… and try to beat him at his own game.”
Pines, who was just named to the United Soccer Coaches All-North Region First Team, was unable to play in the tournament match due to a concussion, but believes that if his defense prepares for Indiana’s crosses and tracks their key players like Gutman, they are equally matched.
Gutman, attacking from his leftback position, has presented some challenges for the Terps’ backline in past matches, evidenced by his three goals against Maryland this season.
Cirovski, who has said in the past that Gutman is the best player in college soccer, was singing a slightly different tone before this Friday’s match.
“He sucks,” Cirovski said. “From now on I’m going to say Andrew Gutman is a terrible soccer player because he scored all three goals against us. I told [Indiana] Coach Yeagley, all week long I’m going to bag on Andrew Gutman… He’s so overrated.”
Reading between the lines, the respect that Cirovski has for Gutman is clear. The same goes for Pines, who said he will be watching him at all times Friday night.
Contrary to when the teams met earlier in the season, Maryland is 7-1-1 since facing the Hoosiers on Oct. 12. Cirovski believes that the team’s chemistry, especially on offense, is at an all-time high, so much so that they are coaching themselves. In its NCAA Tournament run, Maryland has scored first in all three matches.
Senior forward Sebastian Elney has two goals in the NCAA Tournament, including the game-winner against Kentucky. He was also a freshman on the 2015 team that just missed a chance to go to the College Cup after a falling in penalty kicks to Clemson.
““This senior class came within a whisker of a College Cup their freshman year,” Cirovski said. “I could see in their hearts, in their eyes and their smiles in Lexington when we advanced, it means a lot to them. But I also know that group didn’t come to Maryland just to get to a College Cup. They came here to win one.”
The match, which will be in Santa Barbara, California, will be aired live on ESPNU. Kickoff is scheduled for Friday at 10:30 p.m. ET.
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