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Terps men's soccer hasn't forgotten about title game loss, or chance to avenge it

The Baltimore Sun

COLLEGE PARK — There are no commemorative T-shirts worn at practice to remind Sasho Cirovski and his Maryland men's soccer team of their controversial loss to Notre Dame in the final of last year's College Cup. There is no new slogan etched onto the walls or scrawled across a whiteboard in the The memory of what happened last December — and the seemingly obvious Fighting Irish hand ball that was missed early in what turned out to be a gut-wrenching, 2-1 defeat at PPL Park in Chester, Pa. — is still with Cirovski and his second-ranked Terps as they start the 2014 season tonight at No. 14 Louisville.

It will serve as motivation for a team that lost two-time Missouri Athletic Club Hermann Trophy winner Patrick Mullins, who has the second-most career goals and points in school history, going into its first season in the Big Ten Conference. It also will serve as a reminder of how such a pivotal game can turn on one bizarre play.

"You don't forget about it. You certainly use it as inspiration, motivation, absolutely," Cirovski, who has coached the Terps since 1993, said Tuesday. "We're not good losers. We're good sports, but we're not good losers in terms of [how] we learn from those moments."

Cirovski said he saw how the defeat gnawed at his players as they trained for the season, including during a two-week trip to England a few months afterward to play against the developmental teams of three of the country's top professional clubs, Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur.

"I think that's provided a great impetus for extremely hard work," Cirovski said of the loss to Notre Dame and the circumstances surrounding it. "We want to make sure that nobody outworks us through the spring, summer and during the season and in each game. … The players from that [2013] team still have a bitter taste in their mouths."

Zack Steffen, who overcame a slow start as a freshman to become one of the top goalkeepers in the country, said: "We're hungry for the national championship. Nobody likes to lose when you're that close. So we're all using that as a big motivation to push us to take that extra step."

While constantly reminded of the play in which Notre Dame midfielder Patrick Hodan used his elbow to bat away what appeared to be a certain headed goal by Maryland's Alex Shinsky, Cirovski said it helped to hear from Chico Grajeda, the Major League Soccer referee who officiated the championship game.

The telephone call from Grajeda came two days after the game. Cirovski declined to say whether Grajeda acknowledged making a mistake that might have cost the Terps a man advantage for a majority of the match, but added: "We had a very good conversation. I have deep respect for him.

"All you do is file it [away]; you move on. This is what sports does. It teaches us these valuable lessons. We have a saying in our locker room: 'Your greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.' For us, this whole season is about rising, and that's what we want to do. … We hope that this time around, we have a chance to be the last team smiling."

Asked this week whether the Terps are owed one, Cirovski said: "I don't feel like we're owed anything, but I do think in life, if you do the right things and you work hard, sometimes good fortune comes back around."

Cirovski conceded that it might have been the most difficult defeat of his coaching career. Of his seven previous College Cup appearances, he'd never lost in the finals.

But having seen other Maryland teams rebound after adversity, Cirovski believes this year's team can do the same in trying to win the Terps' fourth title and first since 2008.

"Back when we had a run of four College Cups from [2002] to 2005, we had some things not go our way, and all we did is we just came back and we learned from that and fought hard, knowing that if you believe in the right things and stay true to what you believe, there's a good chance, next time around, things go your way," Cirovski said.

Senior midfielder Dan Metzger, who along with Shinsky will serve as this year's captains, said that what happened to the Terps on that frigid afternoon outside Philadelphia has happened to other teams and players more accomplished than them.

"Anyone would say we got a little cheated, but that's soccer. You see it all the time," said Metzger, one of 32 men's players on the watch list for the MAC Hermann Trophy, given to the top player in the sport. "You see it in the World Cup. Unfortunately, it happened to us, and we just have to use it as fire for this next season to get us back there."


Coach: Sasho Cirovski (347-131-40 in 24 years overall, 321-119-31 in 22 years at Maryland)

Players to Watch: Senior Dan Metzger is one of the top defensive midfielders in the country. Sophomore Zack Steffen had eight shutouts as a freshman. Freshman George Campbell (McDonogh) scored two goals in the preseason and is being groomed as a possible successor to top scorer Patrick Mullins. Junior Mael Corboz, a Rutgers transfer who was a Scarlet Knights captain as a sophomore, is expected to start at center midfield.

Big games: The Terps will host No. 19 UMBC (next Friday), No. 10 Michigan State in its Big Ten home opener (Sept. 19), No. 21 Wisconsin (Sept. 26), No. 9 Georgetown (Sept. 30) and No. 15 Penn State (Oct. 12). They also will play at No. 25 Navy (Sept. 8).

Maryland Terps men's soccer hasn't forgotten about title game loss, or chance to avenge it

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