Passion for soccer drives Cirovski

UM coach tireless in selling his sport

November 01, 2006|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,Sun reporter

College Park — Passion for soccer drives Cirovski College Park -- Sasho Cirovski doesn't demand much, for college soccer in general and the University of Maryland in particular.

Another NCAA title or three for a program that reached that pinnacle last December.

Assorted cable networks battling for the rights to college matches.

A new lacrosse/soccer facility here, perhaps named Trpe Stadium, which is not a typo.

To achieve his dreams, Cirovski plays up the CEO smarts that he honed while earning an MBA and redirects the passion that produced red cards from his playing days to the 2002 NCAA semifinals.

Maryland is ranked No. 5 nationally. It is a measure of the league's strength that the Terps are the fourth seed and playing the 8 o'clock quarterfinal tonight in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament, being held at the Maryland SoccerPlex in Montgomery County.

Cirovski's recruiting is at the reloading level, as the Terps (14-3-1) replaced seven starters this season. He brings the same zeal to bringing the game to your living room and elevating its on-campus profile.

Maryland athletic director Debbie Yow draws a parallel to a standard-bearer she encountered as a coach at Kentucky.

"Where women's basketball was, men's soccer is now," Yow said. "Tennessee's Pat Summitt talked up the game anywhere, anytime, to anyone, and Sasho's like that. When you promote your sport, the hard part is making sure that you don't shortchange your own team. Sasho has been able to manage both, which is rare."

Cirovski has turned a moribund Maryland team at his 1993 hiring into the nation's steadiest program. The Terps have reached the past four College Cups, soccer's version of the Final Four.

This is his third season as chairman of the National Soccer Coaches Association of America's men's Division I committee, where he created the funding for a lobbyist for college soccer. Despite soaring youth participation, ACC members Florida State, Georgia Tech and Miami do not sponsor men's soccer.

"Sasho is a hero in our profession, our current inspirational leader," said Jerry Yeagley, who retired in 2003 after coaching Indiana to a sixth NCAA title. "He's shown by example the possibilities with his innovative ideas, for TV, the way he's configured the field. The crowds at Maryland, and around the country, show that soccer can become more than an Olympic sport. Maybe it can become a revenue sport."

Yeagley watched the Terps beat Duke, 1-0, Sept. 29 on the Fox Soccer Channel. Cable viewers saw great soccer and a Ludwig Field record crowd of 6,489.

Cirovski was instrumental in getting a game of the week onto Fox in 2005, then eight women's and 12 men's matches this season. That was after he secured advertisers for the signboards that transform what doubles as a track and field facility.

"Ludwig resembles a European venue more than an American college," sophomore goalie Chris Seitz said of the atmosphere that lured him from California.

For sure, home-field advantage outweighs altruism. Maryland last played an NCAA tournament game on an opponent's field in 1997. This year's draw will be announced next week, and Maryland again expects to open at Ludwig, where it's 12-0 in the NCAAs the past four years.

This year's signboard sponsors include Under Armour. Before he became a senior manager there in June, Shawn Flynn was the associate athletic director at Maryland in charge of men's soccer.

"Sasho's favorite saying," Flynn said, "is that `No is a temporary obstacle.' "

Flynn observed the decades-in-the-making maturation of Cirovski.

Bob Gansler, who would coach the United States at the 1990 World Cup, took over at Wisconsin-Milwaukee in 1984 and got the hotheaded Cirovski through his senior season without a card.

Cirovski earned his master's degree in business administration, then won the heart of Soccer Hall of Famer Shannon Higgins, a former Terps women's coach. They have three daughters, who helped change Cirovski after he got ejected from the 2002 NCAA semifinals.

"That led to self-analysis," Cirovski said. "Everything I have in life is because of college soccer, but I wasn't being the kind of teacher and coach and leader that I wanted to be."

Cirovski vows to never embarrass his daughters again and always to honor the parents who brought him here.

Last December's joy of an NCAA title was compounded when the European Union formalized Macedonia's candidacy for membership. Cirovski was 8 when his family emigrated from an impoverished mountain village in what then was Yugoslavia to Canada. When he talks with his mother, it is in the Macedonian tongue.

At Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Cirovski traveled an intersection where the streets were named Hartford and Maryland, the two colleges he's coached. He said: "I believe you create your own destiny," but Cirovski makes other karmic connections.

He wants Maryland to build a facility dedicated to soccer and lacrosse, a la Virginia's Klockner Stadium. He has scouted sites on campus, pushes the plan and knows what he wants included in the name.

"One day I'm going to build a stadium in my late father's honor," Cirovski said. "You know what Dad's name is? It read Trpemir on his passport. He wrote it `Trpe,' pronounced "Trpa.' People didn't want to say that, so they shortened it to `Terp.' They called him Terp, Terp Cirovski."

paul.mcmullen@baltsun.com

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