COLLEGE PARK — In Sasho Cirovski’s 26 years as the head coach of Maryland men’s soccer, some things never change.
He always preaches excellence, and that goal has turned the Terps into a national power.
But after two first-round exits in the NCAA Tournament and a rough start to the 2018 season, Maryland looked like a program that would continue failing to live up to those standards. The Terps started 4-5-3 and were on the brink of missing the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2000.
Suddenly, Maryland caught fire, finishing 9-1-1 on the way to its improbable fourth national championship, the program’s first since 2008.
The Terps are looking to chase another championship in 2019, and while the expectations have not changed, the team has. Maryland will have to replace seven starters and welcomed 13 new players in the offseason, flipping nearly half the roster.
“One of the great things about being a college coach is there’s a freshness every year,” Cirovski said. “There’s a newness and an energy, whether it’s the returning players having to embrace much larger roles or whether it’s the newcomers who bring this enthusiasm excitement, naivety and joy at the same time. It’s a challenge I love as a college coach, forming a new team every year and get(ting) it to become something special.”
Nowhere is that freshness more apparent than in Maryland’s offense. The Terps lost 19 of its 30 players from last season and will be without their three leading scorers. Midfielder Amar Sejdic (8 goals, 1 assist) and forward Sebastian Elney (4G, 2A) graduated, while senior forward Paul Bin (4G, 3A) was expected to take on a bigger role this season before tearing his ACL in preseason training.
Bin’s loss means junior forward Eric Matzelevich (2G, 3A) and sophomore midfielder William James Herve (4G, 3A) will have to step in his place, though Cirovski said Herve is still “not in the flow yet” after undergoing offseason surgery. Cirovski also expects sophomore strikers Justin Gielen (DeMatha Catholic) and Brayan Padilla to step up, while Hofstra University transfer Luke Brown, who scored 16 goals in three seasons for the Pride, gives the offense an experienced attacking threat.
The Terps also lost key pieces on defense but returns some key cogs from a backline that pitched shutouts in all five NCAA Tournament games. One of the biggest returns announced was senior center back Johannes Bergmann, who will be one of the team’s captains.
“He’s a very mature, very poised leader,” Cirovski said of Bergmann. “I think he’s got command of the team.”
Replacing All-American center back and current D.C. United defender Donovan Pines will be a tough task, but Cirovski expects sophomore Brett St. Martin to slide into that role. Twins Ben and Matt Di Rosa (Bethesda Academy) return on the flanks, with Ben playing right back and Matt replacing Chase Gasper at left back.
In the defensive midfield, senior captain Eli Crognale will have “a big load to carry,” according to Cirovski, and redshirt freshman Nick Richardson will step in alongside him after initially being recruited as a defender.
Maryland will have to replace goalkeeper Dayne St. Clair as well, who, besides Pines, was arguably the team’s most indispensable player last season. The competition is still ongoing, and redshirt freshman Russell Shealy and freshman Niklas Neumann will both see minutes early. Shealy started and made two saves in Maryland’s 1-0 season opener against South Florida. Meanwhile, Neumann made two saves but surrendered two goals in the Terps’ loss against rivals Virginia on Labor Day.
Even with all the personnel changes, Cirovski has once again put together another tough schedule. The Terps will face seven NCAA Tournament teams from last season, including a national championship game rematch against Akron on Sept. 13. A challenging schedule paid dividends last year, even if it did not show in early results.
“It definitely teaches us to be more patient in the process,” Crognale said. “We know that we’re going to have to be patient through the process and understand that there are going to be growing pains we have to ride out and win when it matters at the end of the season.”
Like last year, it may take a few games for this team to gel. Yet the expectations remain the same for a coach and a program that demands excellence.
“It’s tough when you have to replace so many players, but we have a culture that that’s what you expect to do,” Cirovski said. “We hope to be there in the end.”