November 19, 2012;College Par, MD, USA; Big Ten commissioner Jim Delaney speaks during the Big Ten Press Conference at Adele Stamp Union. Mandatory Credit: Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports
University of Maryland men’s soccer is consistently recognized as one of the premier programs in the country and that streak will continue in the upcoming season. According to TopDrawerSoccer.com, Sasho Cirovski introduces the number two ranked recruiting class in the nation this season. In addition to returning eight of the 11 starters from last year’s Final Four team, Maryland not only has the leadership to repeat that success, but also has the depth to show fans that Sasho is solidifying the opportunity to win now and in the future.
Despite retaining only sophomore Dakota Edwards on defense, incoming freshman Alex Crognale seems poised to immediately fight for early playing time as he possesses good size and speed for a center back. Crognale enrolled a semester early at Maryland, so he has had more time to adapt and prepare himself for the season. In addition, freshman Suli Dainkeh, defensive midfielder from Virginia, will wow the Maryland faithful as he was the 2012 Gatorade State Player of the Year in Virginia and is a member of the U18 US national team. His natural position proves that he has the tactical skills to secure the ball in the back and the speed and stamina to play large minutes. This is worth noting as he has the ability to play any position on the back. Michael Sauers is another incoming freshman that may see some time due to his good size and speed. As we saw last year in the Georgetown game, forward Jordan Cyrus was able to step in and play defense when needed.
Michael Ambrose, who was a top-10 recruit from the 2012 recruiting class, will likely fight for a starting position. As we have just reviewed, Maryland has an abundance of youngsters that have the potential and skill, but lack the experience. Although I expect the team to struggle in the early going, time will help gel the defense together and thus Maryland will see an improved defense throughout the season.
The midfield will retain juniors Dan Metzger and Jereme Raley as they will shoulder the load afterJohn Stertzer graduated. However, the incoming class can contribute a lot to the midfield. Freshman Daniel Johnson possesses good speed and great footwork, one of the many reasons that Sasho loves this kid so much. Playing in the West Ham Academy in England for three years allowed Johnson to gain the confidence and skill to make him one of the most interesting and exciting players on the team.
Another freshman that can see early playing time is Chris Odio-Atsem, who received just about every award possible in Maryland. Sasho sees Odio-Atsem as a versatile player who can play any position on the field. However, I predict midfield is where he ends up due to the crowded defense and dominance on attack. Junior Mikias Eticha and sophomore Tsubasa Endoh provided a spark off the bench last year, giving Sasho more able bodies to work with.
Arguably the Terps strongest position, the attackers, will once again scare every opponent on Maryland’s schedule as all three strikers return, including reigning MAC Hermann Trophy winner Patrick Mullins. With no incoming freshman for the side of the field, Sasho will once again depend on these three in order to step up just as they did last year. I believe that if they are able to play within their game and repeat last year’s success, Mullins will once again lead the forwards to give Maryland one of the top offenses in the country.
Maryland returns junior goalkeeper Keith Cardona from his stellar sophomore year who boasted a 16-1-3 record. However, incoming freshman Zack Steffen is arguably Maryland’s top recruit and among the top in the nation. Rated the number one goalie by TopDrawerSoccer.com, he starts for the U18 Men’s National team as well as regularly being called up for the U20 team. Coming off a year where he was an All-American among other awards, I wouldn’t be surprised if Steffen gets playing time because of how much talent and potential he possesses rather than Cardona being unable to hold his weight. Competition brings out the best in all players and with Sasho looking to improve on last year’s Final Four, Maryland should feel comfortable with either option.
Maryland has seven members of each freshmen, sophomore, junior, and senior classes, which is perfect because there is a balance of leadership as well as impact freshmen that can still be given time to adapt to the college game. Overall, I expect another strong year for the Terps that can make it back to the Final Four and possibly win it all this year. Maryland is arguably the best team in the ACC this year and has the least question marks out of any team. Sasho knows how to get the job done, and I am fully confident that he will be able to do so.