For Terps, waiting is hardest part

Men's soccer team opens run for NCAA title tonight

November 26, 2003|By Christian Ewell | Christian Ewell,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK -- It's been a classic case of hurry up and wait for the Maryland men's soccer team, which opens its quest for a second straight final four appearance at 6 tonight in the second round of the NCAA tournament.

When the No. 2-ranked Terrapins (17-2-1) face the Old Dominion Monarchs (15-3-1), it will have been 10 days since they lost to Virginia on penalty kicks in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament final. It will have been three months since the team began the season ranked No. 1 in the country, and 11 months since its bitter defeat in the national semifinals in Dallas last year.

The anticipation is such that the loss of the league title is seen as a mere bump on the way to the bigger title, with home games until the College Cup on Dec. 12 and Dec. 14 in Columbus, Ohio.

"Right after the Virginia game, these guys wanted to play the NCAA tournament right there," said Maryland coach Sasho Cirovski. "You could see it in their eyes. We just wanted to get on with the NCAA; it's what they've been looking forward to since December."

Whereas the Terps' NCAA run last year came as a mild surprise, expectations arising from that performance are a source of the team's eagerness.

Coming into this season, Maryland was ranked first or second in most polls and did little to defuse that hype by winning its first nine games, including victories over the current top-ranked team, UCLA, and No. 4 Wake Forest.

So it almost makes one uneasy to take such a break, though nerves seem natural given the increased stakes.

"Now is the time where you get the jitters -- now that you have the week off, even more," said fifth-year senior midfielder Scott Buete, who will enter his fourth tournament with the Terps.

But Cirovski said the time off will benefit the Terps long after the jitters end. It allowed the team to digest the end of the regular season. It also gave fourth-year junior forward Abe Thompson (an All-ACC selection last year) a chance to get back into the mix after missing eight games with foot problems. Erwin Diaz, a forward who missed time because of an ankle injury, has also recovered.

In Thompson's absence, sophomore Jason Garey has come on to become Maryland's leading scorer, with 10 goals and three assists.

"I was glad that I got my chance to show what I can do," Garey said. "The best part is that we get Abe back, probably our best forward. We have Erwin coming back, too. We have all these guys coming back, so we're at full strength. That was our goal headed into the tournament."

In Old Dominion -- which advanced by beating N.C. State, 6-3 -- Maryland finds an opponent it should be familiar with.

The Monarchs lost a scrimmage against the Terps, 1-0, in College Park this spring, giving an indication of their strength. For much of the regular season, the team continued its strong play, reaching No. 2 in the Soccer America poll after shutting out its first nine opponents and winning its first 14 games overall.

Old Dominion isn't quite as strong at the moment, as two of its best players, Trevor McEachron and Ian Kaila, have gone down for the season with anterior cruciate ligament tears. But Cirovski said he still believes Maryland has a dangerous foe to overcome tonight.

"It would be a mistake to overreact to their two losses," Cirovski said. "Soccer's a game where you can compensate for the loss of two key players. They demolished N.C. State, and those two guys didn't play in that game."

Terps tonight

What: NCAA men's Division I soccer tournament, second round

Matchup: Old Dominion (15-3-1) vs. No. 2 Maryland (17-2-1)

Site: Ludwig Field, College Park

Time: 6

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