The Maryland Terrapin men’s soccer team is set to kick off their first season in the Big Ten on August 18 at Akron in an exhibition game, and the regular season starts on August 29 at Louisville. Coach Sasho Cirovski and the Terps will be looking to avenge their National Championship defeat from last year without star forward Patrick Mullins, who departed for the MLS this offseason. While it won’t be an easy task to replace the two-time MAC Herman Trophy winner, Maryland has a talented and experienced squad, which features two recent Team USA U-20 call ups.
In July, the USA Under-20 Men’s National Team hosted a tournament in California that featured games against Bermuda, Chile, and Australia. Two rising sophomores were on the team, goalkeeper Zack Steffen and midfielder Chris Odoi-Atsem. Neither player was used in the USA 2-1 victory over Chile, but both players were in the starting eleven in the 4-0 win over Bermuda and the 0-0 draw against Australia. The four team tournament finished with the USA victorious on goal differential. Australia and the USA both had seven points following their draw in the final game, but the USA was ahead on goal differential by one goal.
Steffen was barley called into action against Bermuda as the USA cruised to a 4-0 win. The United States entered the half with a 17-0 shot advantage, but Steffen was called into question a couple of times on the defensive end. As a freshman Steffen used his athleticism to break up plays before teams were able to really challenge him, and this was the case against Bermuda. Against Australia, Steffen was called into question a couple of times and was able to answer the call preventing Australia from finding the back of the net for what could have been the tournament winner. Team USA’s coverage of the game, noted one impressive save Steffen made.
The Dematha product, Chris Odoi-Atsem, wasn’t able to find the back of the net during the tournament despite being involved in the USA onslaught vs Bermuda. But the USA squad featured enough attacking talent that I do not believe they were using Odoi-Atsem in the type of attacking role Maryland will use him. With only two true forwards on the Maryland roster for next season, and the loss of Mullins, coach Cirovski will need Odoi-Atsem to provide an attacking presences out of the midfield.
One time Maryland commit and the #2 player in the Class of 2014, Romain Gall, was also playing for team USA. The FC Lorient product, who lives in Virginia, committed to play at Maryland this upcoming season but does not appear to be attending anymore. Instead of attending Maryland and joining coach Cirovski, Gall will continue to pursue his goal of breaking through in European soccer at FC Lorient. The Ligue 1 (France) team finished in eighth last season, missing out on a European championship position by twenty points. Gall had a successful tournament, and would have been an instant impact player for the Terrapins. He has duel citizenship, and hopefully by playing with the United States U-20 teams he will choose to represent the USA in senior tournaments.
Qualification for the U-20 World Cup will start up in January. There are training events building up to those qualification games, it will be interesting to see if Steffen and Odoi-Atsem will continue to be a part of the team. Maryland will look to make another deep run to the College Cup, which could cut into their preparations for the U-20 World Cup. Also, if Steffen declares for the MLS Superdraft, that could impact his availability for Team USA as well.
Right now though, the goal is for both players to play a role in leading Maryland to their third College Cup Final Four in a row and bringing a National Championship back to College Park. While the tournament was only three games, it was important for Steffen and Odoi-Atsem to play competitive games to stay in shape as the season kickoff nears. It is also important to see the Terrapins pipeline to Team USA continue, especially following the success of former Terps Omar Gonzalez and Graham Zusi this summer at the 2014 World Cup.