It's a match for two Terps

Teammates: Michael Dello-Russo and Ian Rodway have stuck together through the years. They'll be paired again tonight when No. 6 Maryland faces defending NCAA champ North Carolina.

College Soccer

October 05, 2002|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK - Through various Howard County club leagues, camps, four years at Wilde Lake High, the Olympic Development Program and now at the University of Maryland, they have been inseparable on the soccer field.

Michael Dello-Russo and Ian Rodway are practically bookends.

They have been neighbors, teammates, occasional opponents at the club level and good friends. And, as they prepare with the sixth-ranked Terrapins for one of the team's biggest home games of the season tonight against North Carolina, their relationship is stronger than ever.

"We've actually gotten closer since we've been in school here," said Rodway of his fellow sophomore. "It"s been real good here."

How they got to College Park is a matter of some debate.

The players relate that it was Rodway who decided first that he wanted to be a Terp; coach Sasho Cirovski said Dello-Russo made the first move.

There is no doubt Dello-Russo was the first on campus because he graduated early from Wilde Lake and enrolled at Maryland in the spring of 2001 to get a head start on Atlantic Coast Conference soccer.

"Physically, he was not ready, so it was good that he could get going early," Cirovski said. "He committed much earlier and he tried to convince Ian to come."

Both Dello-Russo and Rodway said the latter made up his mind first to play collegiately only 20 miles from home in Columbia.

"We decided separately and I committed before he did, but I didn't really tell him," Rodway said. "I didn't want to influence him."

"We talked about going to some colleges, but he never told me a thing," Dello-Russo said.

No matter who came first in this chicken-and-egg tale, the bottom line is that, despite their almost identical soccer histories - including helping Wilde Lake to a Class 3A state title - they did not come as a package deal, but they are integral players on an 8-2 Maryland team that next meets the defending national champions at 7 p.m. at Ludwig Field.

"I'm very fond of both of them and their talents," Cirovski said. "I had to convince Ian that he could contribute here rather quickly. He is such a humble person. They have gotten better and better. Both have a lot of savvy and read the game so well."

During most of their simultaneous careers, Dello-Russo played in front of Rodway in the midfield or on attack, but their positions are now reversed, with Dello-Russo at outside back and Rodway in the middle of the midfield.

Neither spot lends itself to a lot of scoring. They have one goal between them. With Maryland, forward Abe Thompson and midfielder Sumed Ibrahim get the majority of the shooting chances. Versatility is the calling card of Dello-Russo and Rodway.

"It's easy to put them in a lot of places," Cirovski said. "The last two years, we probably had more injuries than anybody in the country and their knowledge, work ethic and versatility made them invaluable."

The Terrapins will be attempting to bounce back from a 3-0 embarrassment at Wake Forest last week, their first ACC loss. It was their 10th game in 29 days, and they were physically and mentally drained by the bus ride and an inability to practice in the rain.

"Our legs were just rubbery," Dello-Russo said. "Carolina is now a huge game that can put us back on our feet. Playing the defending champ always puts a little extra incentive into you. Teams trying to repeat are most other teams' biggest game."

"I think we're going to do well because we got a good wakeup call," Rodway said. "Because they're defending champions, there is going to be a little more intensity to this game."

The ACC race is wide-open, with parity prevailing after a 2001 campaign in which Virginia dominated during the regular season. With the exception of a weak link or two, anybody can beat anybody else.

Carolina is 7-3 overall, 1-1 in the league, and has won two straight.

"It's crucial to win your home games in this league," Cirovski said. "The last couple of years we haven't beaten any of the big boys, so this is a huge one for us."

Consummate team players Dello-Russo and Rodway will be out there, doing all they can to make it a festive occasion. To them, togetherness is old hat.

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