Maryland, St. John's meet again today in NCAA tourney

College soccer


When the St. John's and Maryland men's soccer teams take the field today in the third round of the NCAA Division I tournament in College Park, it will be the third straight year the teams have met in the postseason.

While it might initially appear that the Terrapins and Red Storm have become familiar with each other, St. John's coach Dave Masur said the rematch is more serendipitous than any budding rivalry. Still, Masur expects a classic match between teams that have been tested with tough regular-season schedules to prepare for the intensity level and pressure of NCAA tournament games.

"Teams change all the time because of new personnel," Masur said. "Teams are always getting better and better, and no team, maybe with the exception of Indiana, has been better than Maryland in the past four or five years."

Maryland (16-4-1) has been a top four seed in four straight NCAA tournaments and has advanced to the College Cup the past three seasons. The Red Storm (11-5-5) is making its 10th consecutive appearance in the third round of the NCAA tournament.

In 2003, St. John's shattered Maryland's hopes of winning its first national title since 1968 after the Terps finished one of the best regular-season runs in the history of the program. Maryland was 20-3-1 in the regular season - matching a school record for wins - but fell to the Red Storm in the national semifinals on a penalty kick in the 35th minute.

Maryland coach Sasho Cirovski said that loss still resonates.

"That game has been filed away for a long time, but still, you don't forget things like that," Cirovski said. "We learned some valuable lessons in that game. You have to be able to make some big plays because just one can decide the game."

Maryland avenged that loss one year later, dropping St. John's in the NCAA quarterfinals, 1-0, in College Park.

This season, Cirovski knows his team has to do a better job putting teams away after taking an early lead. That became a concern after the Terps blew a three-goal, first-half lead against visiting Indiana last month and settled for a 3-3 tie.

Maryland beat Brown, 1-0, in the second round Tuesday after an 11-day layoff, and Cirovski said it took a little time for his team to shake off some rust from not playing a real match.

"We actually worked on closing out a game quite a bit with 10 or 15 minutes to go," Cirovski said. "The layoff hurts your attacking rhythm a lot more than your defending rhythm."

St. John's beat No. 22 Dartmouth, 1-0, on Tuesday to advance to today's game.

Masur said the strength of his team is its balance between offense and defense. The biggest challenge for the Red Storm might be trying to shut down forward Jason Garey, who is Maryland's all-time leading scorer and a candidate for National Player of the Year.

St. John's must also solve a Terps defense that has given up only six goals in 11 home games this season.

The Maryland-St. John's games have been physical contests, and both coaches expect the same for Round 3. While Masur downplayed a familiarity between the teams, Cirovski could not help but marvel at the similarities.

"Whenever you have a game with finality to it, you are going to get a sense of desperation with every play," Cirovski said. "It always comes down to who is able to execute and make the big plays."

At a glance

What -- NCAA men's soccer tournament, third round

Who -- No 3. Maryland (16-4-1) vs. No. 18 St. John's (11-5-5)

When -- Today, 1 p.m.

Where -- Ludwig Field, College Park

Note -- The winner will advance to the quarterfinals on Friday, Saturday or next Sunday against the winner of Akron and Connecticut.

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