In the aftermath of No. 5 seed Maryland's 1-0 win against No. 12 seed UC-Irvine in a third-round game of the NCAA men’s soccer tournament on Sunday night, several Terps were asked about Saturday's quarterfinal meeting with No. 4 seed California.
A Cheshire-like grin crossed the face of senior forward Patrick Mullins before he answered.
“This is exactly what we wanted,” he said.
“That’s what we said after the game in our hotel room,” freshman goalkeeper Zack Steffen chimed in. “We wanted them at the end of the year, and now we’ve got them.”
Giving some bulletin-board material to a Golden Bears squad that went 14-4-2 might be a recipe for disaster, but Maryland (15-5-3) is eager to make amends for a 3-2 overtime loss to California on Sept. 1.
The Terps never led in that game, tying the score at 1-1 and 2-2 in the second half before Cal senior midfielder Alec Sundly scored the game-winning goal in the 97th minute.
That game was part of a 1-2-2 start for Maryland, which went 14-3-1 the rest of the way. Coach Sasho Cirovski said the current Terps squad is much different from the one that opened the season.
“We didn’t represent the best of Maryland soccer on that day,” he recalled. “We weren’t happy with our performance, and we knew we were going to get better. We went out to play those games so that they would make us better and prepare us for these moments at the end of the year. We’re a far better team than we were at the beginning of the year. We wish the game was here, but we know the surroundings, and we’re looking forward to the challenge.”
The Terps are seeking their eighth appearance in the NCAA tournament’s Final Four since 1998.