After 15th consecutive win, Terrapins' goal in sight

men's college soccer ncaa title game preview

Maryland, seeking its first national championship since 2005, has used defensive breakdown in early October loss to Clemson as motivation

December 14, 2008|By Steve Hunt | Steve Hunt,Special to The Baltimore Sun

FRISCO, Texas - This afternoon, the Maryland men's soccer team will face Atlantic Coast Conference rival North Carolina in the final of the Men's College Cup at Pizza Hut Park. Not only will the Terrapins (22-3-0) look to defeat the Tar Heels (15-7-1) for the third time this year, but they will also be seeking their first national title since 2005.

"We are honored and delighted to have an opportunity to play [today]," Maryland coach Sasho Cirovski said. "It's a goal that we set at the beginning of the year, to have a chance to play on the biggest stage in college soccer. We know North Carolina well, and we have a great deal of respect for their coaches and their players."

Maryland advanced to today's final with a 1-0 win in double overtime over St. John's on Friday night when senior Graham Zusi blasted a well-placed free kick from about 25 yards after 104 minutes of play into the back of the net to end the game.

Almost immediately after his big goal, Zusi's cell phone started ringing.

"I had to shut my phone off last night so I could go to sleep," he said. "It was great, though, to hear from old buddies that I hadn't heard from in a couple of years, all of my high school and club guys. It's great to know that all those guys are watching."

Friday's win was the 15th straight for the Terrapins. However, it is their last loss, a 5-3 defeat at Clemson on Oct. 3, that remains fresh in their minds.

"We had two heart-to-heart, rather lengthy chats after that game - one in the locker room and one on the bus ride home," Cirovski said. "It was a humbling experience, and I think we brought the humility back to the way that we played. We needed to remind ourselves what we wanted to accomplish this year."

Senior defender A.J. Delagarza also remembers that game well.

"We were scored on five times, the most we've been scored on in four years," he said. "Since then, we haven't let in more than one goal in a game. Collectively, we've all done a better job defensively, and I think that's what has helped us."

Since that loss, the Maryland coach acknowledges that he hasn't had to work as hard on the sideline.

"This is a team that I've had to coach less in the last six weeks than any other team I've ever had because they've bought into the respect for the game and the respect for the principles and process that entitles you to have the ability to succeed," Cirovski said. "I think that's kind of been our trademark."

Maryland first faced North Carolina on Nov. 7 and prevailed, 2-1. Five days later, the sides met in the ACC tournament, with the Terrapins winning by the same score.




NCAA Men's

College Cup final

Today, 1 p.m.

Frisco, Texas


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