Maryland returned to the College Cup last season, and after beating Virginia for the second time, they lost a heartbreaker to Notre Dame in the championship game. Two handballs in the box weren’t called against Notre Dame, and in a cold Philadelphia afternoon, the phenomenal career of Patrick Mullins came to an end. The Terrapins have been to two straight College Cups, but have yet to win the championship despite dominating the ACC regular season and conference tournament. Coach Cirovski now faces two large challenges in replacing Mullins, but most importantly switching to a new conference.
The ACC is and has been one of the top conferences in the country for men’s soccer. The loss of Maryland hurts them greatly, but teams like Virginia, Wake Forest, Notre Dame, and North Carolina will continue the strong play the conference is used to. However, the Big Ten is no joke of a school league. In the NSCAA Preseason Poll, three other Big Ten teams are ranked and two more were receiving votes. Regardless of whichever conference Maryland is, they are a big enough power to stay on top the rankings, recruit top players, and make deep tournament runs.
As mentioned earlier, Maryland will have a key piece to replace in Patrick Mullins, but they also lost Schillo Tshuma as well to Major League Soccer. Mullins list of accomplishments is long and it would be unrealistic to anticipate anyone replacing him completely. He was a two time Hermann Trophy winner, scored 19 goals and 8 assists last season, and is the Second All Time Leading Scorer and Second Point Leader at Maryland, both behind Jason Garey. Schillo Tshuma scored 6 goals and had 1 assist last season, and played a vital role in leading Maryland’s attack alongside Mullins.
Even with a lot lost, Maryland shouldn’t suffer that much. Sasho returns eight starters from last seasons team and has had two players who have been keeping in form with team USA during the offseason. Goalkeeper Zack Steffen and Chris Odoi-Atsem both played with the U-20 team USA in California at a three game tournament. A couple of weeks later, Steffen was in the Bahamas training with the U-23 team USA squad and looks to be in position to represent team USA in the U-20 World Cup and 2016 Rio Olympics. Steffen has currently been named to TopDrawerScorer Best XI and last year was named the NCAA Most Valuable Defensive Player at the College Cup.
Returning to the pitch along with Steffen and Odoi-Atsem are midfielders Dan Metzger and Tsubasa Endoh. Metzger started all 26 games last season and made First Team All-ACC, while scoring 2 goals and 1 assist. So far this year, Metzger has made the Hermann Trophy watch list, made TopDrawerSoccer 2nd team, and was recently named one of the Big Ten Network’s players to watch. Also on the Big Ten Network watch list was junior midfielder, Tsubasa Endoh. A product of Toyko, Endoh had 25 starts last year, and scored 3 goals and 6 assist. Metzger brings steady play to the midfield, which is key to how Sasho likes to push up field and dominate possession. While Endoh brings playmaking and a fearless nature when it comes to taking on defenders.
In what has come to be expected from Sasho and his staff, Maryland will be bringing in instant impact players. A junior transfer from Rutgers, Mael Corboz, and freshmen George Campbell, are two additions who can make an immediate impact. Corboz converted a penalty kick and had an assist in the Terrapins opening exhibition game at Akron. At Rutgers he lead the team in points (7 goals and 6 assist, 20 points), and made the All-American Athletic Conference Team as a freshman. Corboz had to sit out last year, but expect him to play a critical role for the Terrapins. Maryland secured a big in-state commitment when they got midfielder/forward George Campbell. As a senior last year, he scored 23 goals and 15 assist for McDonogh and was named the Gatorade Boys Soccer Maryland Player of the Year. The Baltimore product should already have tons of fan support with his local ties, and if he plays up to his TopDrawerSoccer Freshman XI billing then he will win over College Park quickly.
Scheduling has never been a challenge for Maryland, as collegiate soccer programs don’t shy away from playing top teams. Even though Maryland lost a lot from last season, they are still challenging themselves with a tough schedule. The Terrapins will face eight teams ranked in the NSCAA preseason poll, and three teams who received votes.
Key out of conference games will be: Georgetown (#9, 9/30); @Louisville (#14, 8/29); UMBC (#19, 9/5); Coastal Carolina (#17, 9/1); @Navy (#25. 9/8); VCU (Received Votes, 10/8)
B1G Key Games: Michigan State (#10, 9/19); Penn State (#15, 10/12); Wisconsin (#21, 9/26); @ Indiana (Received Votes, 10/19); @Michigan (Received Votes, 9/12)
On Wednesday, the Big Ten released their preseason coaches poll and Maryland top the list. Michigan State and Michigan rounded out the three out of nine teams in the conference. Much has been made about how will be a rival of Maryland’s in the Big Ten, and while Penn State and Rutgers have emerged as candidates neither has a solid basketball program. Indiana has been brought up, because of the 2002 National Championship and both are in the same division for football. Indiana is also a clear front runner as a rival of the Terrapins in soccer. Since 1993 (Sasho’s first season), Indiana has made 9 College Cups and won 5 Championships, while Maryland has made 8 College Cups and won 2 Championships. Both programs are clearly the top dogs in the conference, since outside of Indiana; the Big Ten has 3 College Cups and 1 Championship in that same time frame.
No matter what conference Maryland is in and whoever is on their roster, as long as Sasho is on the sideline Maryland will be threat. It might sound unfair, but the expectations for Maryland soccer are similar to those of Alabama football and Kentucky basketball, and that is to win championships. This year is no different, as Maryland will come into the Big Ten with a target on their back.
If the offense can dominate possession, then Maryland has enough playmakers in the midfield and forward spots to create opportunities and play aggressive in front of goal. The defense is experienced, with everyone back from last year and one of the top goalkeepers protecting net. The Terrapins don’t need to find one player to replace Mullins, but instead work together as a team to create similar production. The talent and experience are there, and because of that Maryland should finally complete the coveted treble of winning the regular season crown, conference tournament, and College Cup.