UM kicks into gear, takes NCAA crown

Terps win men's soccer title after falling short 3 times

Maryland 1, New Mexico 0

College Soccer

December 12, 2005|By KEVIN VAN VALKENBURG | KEVIN VAN VALKENBURG,SUN REPORTER

CARY, N.C. -- Sasho Cirovski's daughters understood. They understood how disappointing the previous three trips to the College Cup had been for their father, Maryland's soccer coach for 13 seasons, and how much winning would mean to him this time. So before Cirovski kissed them goodbye this week, 11-year-old Hailey, 9-year-old Karli and 3-year-old Ellie each wrote him a note.

I know this is a lucky year, Hailey Cirovski wrote, carefully putting her message on red construction paper with a marker. The coach was so moved, he tucked all three notes in his pocket, then left them there, hoping that maybe, just maybe, his girls were right.

A little luck might have made the difference yesterday at the SAS Soccer Park as Maryland defeated New Mexico, 1-0, to win its first national championship since 1968. After three consecutive years of bad bounces and bad breaks, the Terps had several go their way this time, none bigger than a first-half goal by Marc Burch, whose shot found the net after it deflected off a Lobos defender.

But in the end, it was more than just good fortune. Just after halftime, Maryland freshman goalkeeper Chris Seitz came up with a save on a New Mexico penalty kick by Andrew Boyens, and the Terps' aggressive attack never let the Lobos claw their way back in it. Maryland finished with a 19-11 shot advantage and had 10 corner kicks.

When the final horn sounded, Maryland fans stormed the field, Cirovski hugged his players and embraced his family, and the young men covered with blood, grass stains and mud wept tears of joy and relief.

"This is the most unbelievable feeling in the world," said defender Michael Dello-Russo, one of four Terps named to the all-tournament team. "I still think I'm sleeping. I want someone to wake me up."

Even Cirovski - who said Saturday that a national championship would give him a "warm and fuzzy feeling for about 48 hours" - seemed to be dazed by the euphoria of winning it all.

"I guess I lied," Cirovski said, admitting 48 hours wasn't enough time to soak it all in. "I'm going to feel pretty good for the next nine months."

A year ago, when Maryland lost to Indiana, 3-2, in double overtime in the NCAA semifinals, Cirovski didn't feel good at all. But just hours after the loss, he got a call on his cell phone from Seitz, who at the time was a high school senior, and one of the country's top recruits.

"I told him not to worry, because we were going win an [Atlantic Coast Conference] championship and a national championship the next year," said Seitz, who was named the tournament's Most Outstanding Defensive Player. "I was hoping to cheer him up a little bit."

No team has won a national championship with a freshman goalie since UCLA defeated Rutgers in 1990 with Brad Friedel in net, an honor that's fitting considering Seitz grew up idolizing Friedel, the goalkeeper for Team USA during the 2002 World Cup.

Cirovski gave Seitz the starting nod at midseason based on what he called "a gut feeling" and when Maryland midfielder Maurice Edu was called for a handball inside the box in the 48th minute of the game, Seitz justified his coach's intuition.

Boyens, an All-American who has played internationally for his native New Zealand, tried to go to Seitz's left, but Seitz read it and deflected the shot. Rushed, Boyens blasted the rebound over the net.

As good as Seitz was, Burch, who transferred to Maryland this year after three years at Evansville, might have been the most important player of the tournament. In addition to his goal yesterday - a left-footed blast in the 30th minute that came on a free kick after New Mexico picked up a yellow card in its own end - Burch also shifted to defense for the Terps in the second half when defender A.J. Delagarza injured his ankle.

"He was our MVP throughout the playoffs," said Maryland senior forward Jason Garey, referring to Burch.

Garey, who considered turning pro after last year, was named the tournament's Most Outstanding Offensive Player. Garey said staying for his senior year was the best decision of his life.

"I wouldn't give this up to play for Manchester United," Garey said.

In the collective bearhug on the field after the game, as Maryland was raising the trophy skyward, Garey shouted out a message for anyone willing to listen:

"The first of many, boys. First of many."

kevin.vanvalkenburg @baltsun.com

Goal: M-Burch. Shots: NM-11; M-19. Corner kicks: NM-5; M-10. Saves: NM-Graczyk 5; M-Seitz 3.

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