The Washington Post Sunday
Terrapins seeking remarkable finish
In College Cup final, Maryland faces Akron in duel of surging squads
santa barbara, calif. — Redemption was a pivotal part of Friday’s College Cup semifinal between the Maryland men’s soccer team and Indiana.
The past two seasons were a struggle for the Terrapins in the NCAA tournament, their participation ending in early exits against Albany and Providence. Then this season, Maryland was in danger of missing the postseason altogether after starting 4-5-3.
Now the Terrapins are one win away from claiming the fourth national championship in program history, and their third under Coach Sasho Cirovski, following a convincing 2-0 win over the second-seeded Hoosiers.
Maryland (12-6-4) advanced to Sunday night’s final against unseeded Akron (15-6-2), which routed Michigan State, 5-1, in Friday’s first semifinal.
“I have talked about redemption all year and our failures and how we need to get back to playing Maryland soccer,” Cirovski said. “Now, we are playing at an all-time high.”
Maryland pulled itself together by finishing 4-1-1 to sneak into the postseason. From there, the 11th-seeded Terps put together impressive performances against N.C. State, No. 6 Duke, No. 3 Kentucky and then the Hoosiers.
“Since our win against Denver [on Oct. 16], we told ourselves that we needed to focus on what we had to do to get to the point we’re at right now,” said junior defender Donovan Pines, who scored Friday’s second goal. “Now we are like brothers. We fight for each other, we play for each other, and we play good with each other.”
Heading into the semifinals, the Hoosiers had not lost since Oct. 3 and had outscored their opponents 22-3 during that stretch. That run included a 2-1 home win over Maryland on Oct. 12 and a 1-1 draw with the Terrapins in the Big Ten semifinals in which the Hoosiers advanced on penalty kicks.
“To beat a great program like Indiana on this stage was going to take a herculean effort on both sides of the ball, and our players executed perfectly,” Cirovski said.
The Terrapins’ defense was ferocious Friday. Multiple times Pines overpowered Indiana’s strong wing players — including senior defender Andrew Gutman, who scored all three goals in the teams’ two previous matchups.
Maryland’s offense broke through in the 37th minute when Matt Di Rosa struck from the right side of the box past Indiana goalkeeper Trey Muse. Its was the first goal of the sophomore midfielder’s career.
“I was so happy when I scored. As a substitute, you are always ready to come in and contribute, and I did that,” Di Rosa said.
Holding the lead at intermission injected fresh energy into the Terrapins’ lineup.
“We knew if we could get that first goal, we could continue forward,” junior goalkeeper Dayne St. Clair said. “And then, once we got it, we weren’t content. We wanted to keep playing hard.”
Indiana responded by going on an all-out attack to start the second half, outshooting Maryland 11-4.
The Hoosiers' best chance at the equalizer came in the 68th minute when Spencer Glass had a clear shot from the left side with St. Clair out of position. But sophomore defender Ben Di Rosa — Matt’s twin — thwarted the attack by flying in with a perfect slide tackle, kicking the ball out of play.
Eleven minutes after Ben Di Rosa’s pure-effort play, Pines padded the Terps’ lead.
In the 79th minute, a free kick from junior midfielder Eli Crognale lofted into the box and, despite an Indiana defender trying to head it out of bounds, it landed right in front of Pines, who poked it past the keeper.
In Sunday’s final, the Terps will try to complete their closing tear against another decorated program making an unexpected run.
Akron, the 2010 national champion and a two-time runner-up, has won nine consecutive games since starting 6-6-2. The Zips’ blowout of the Spartans followed two huge tournament upsets: 3-2 at threetime defending national champion Stanford in the quarterfinals and 1-0 at top-seeded Wake Forest in the round of 16.
“They have really hit their stride. They are playing with confidence and pride, and their path to the College Cup has been nothing short of amazing,” Cirovski said.
With the way their season started and where it is now, you might think the Terrapins would be content no matter what happens Sunday. But Cirovski said only one thing will provide the redemption that his team has been seeking.
“This is a great chapter in the story we are writing this season, but the story is not complete,” he said. “And we are certainly not satisfied at this point until we get that last win.”
“Now, we are playing at an all-time high.” SASHO CIROVSKI, Maryland coach, on the Terrapins, who have turned their season around following a 4-5-3 start.