On college soccer’s biggest stage, the Maryland men’s soccer team is playing for more than just a national championship.
“It’s important for us to reset the identity of Maryland soccer,” head coach Sasho Cirovski said before their College Cup semifinal match against No. 2-seed Indiana.
Maryland has not made it to the College Cup since 2013, and that year the team came up just short of winning the title, falling 2-1 to Notre Dame. The current senior class knows what it’s like to almost reach the final weekend of college soccer. When they were freshman, they lost to Clemson in penalty kicks in the 2015 NCAA Tournament quarterfinals. According to now-senior captain Amar Sejdic, it’s a heartbreak that they never forgot.
“Freshman year we came so close,” Sejdic said. “At the time, I didn’t even realize that we were just maybe one shot on target or maybe a penalty away from making the College Cup… It’s definitely a chance to redeem ourselves.”
Now, the No. 11-seed Terps (12-6-4) are beating the odds stacked against them from the beginning of the season, when they began this season 0-2-2 and without a goal for four matches.
Though spectators counted the Terps out early in the season, Cirovski had a plan when scheduling the second-toughest schedule in the country.
“I told them it was because I believed in them, and I believed in their ability to be successful,” Cirovski said. “Our team deserves to be in this weekend, because we have a great group of seniors and a great group of young men who accepted the challenge of Maryland soccer.”
Nearing the end of the season, the Terps were 4-5-3 and about to face a then-No.7 Denver team with the nation’s leading goal-scorer, Andre Shinyashiki. But a 1-0 win over the Pioneers in October catapulted the team that now boasts upset wins over No.6-seed Duke, No. 3-seed Kentucky and No. 2-seed Indiana to play for a national championship.
Scoring first in all four NCAA Tournament matches and with still no goals against, both the defense and the offense are peaking at the right time.
Their opponent, the Akron Zips (15-6-2), are peaking now too, fresh off a 5-1 rout of Michigan State in the other College Cup semifinal game.
The Zips, only the 11th unseeded team to make the College Cup Final, are on a nine-game win streak and showed their dominance over the Spartans. The Zips held a 2-0 lead going into the half with the first goals coming from sophomore forward David Egbo, who has a team-high 13 goals, and freshman Carlo Ritaccio.
The second half brought three more goals from redshirt junior Skye Harter, junior Marcel Zajac and redshirt freshman Braden Petno.
The Zips had a scare in the first half when senior midfielder Abdi Mohamed made a goal-line save to preserve Akron’s chances to go to the final. And though senior goalkeeper Ben Lundt did let a goal in from Michigan State’s Patrick Nielsen in the 79th minute, Lundt had five key saves.
On the other side of the ball, redshirt junior goalkeeper Dayne St. Clair recorded his 12th shutout of the season against Indiana, avenging the three goals that Indiana scored on him earlier in the season.
The 2-0 victory over Indiana was more than just a ticket to the national championship, as the Terps were able to defeat the team that defeated them once in the regular season, and another time in the Big Ten Tournament semifinals.
“This has been a story of redemption,” Cirovski said. “Our team has risen to the challenge and will continue this weekend.”
Maryland and Akron will meet in the College Cup Final on Sunday at 8 p.m., and the game will be aired live on ESPNU.
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