CHESTER, Pa. — In the summer of 1980, a 17-year-old Sasho Cirovski played on Scotland's Aberdeen Football Club youth team, which at the time was led by a coach named Bobby Clark.
“My first memory was that he didn't play me in my first game, and I was not happy,” Cirovski recalled Friday. “He played me the next couple games, and I was much happier.”
Cirovski and Clark will see each other and shake hands today at PPL Park in Chester, Pa., but it will be as equals. With No. 5 seed Maryland (17-3-5) set to face Clark's third-seeded Notre Dame (16-1-6) team in the NCAA men's soccer final at 3 p.m. Sunday, Cirovski said the matchup is about the Terps' bid for a fourth national title, not the coaches' decades-old relationship.
“He's a person that's dear to me and I respect tremendously,” Cirovski said after the Terps edged No. 8 seed Virginia, 2-1, in the second of two semifinals Friday night. “We worked together in a lot of good parts for the game and hopefully, someday, we can work together and provide a good advertisement for college soccer.”
After the Fighting Irish overpowered No. 7 seed New Mexico, 2-0, Clark, was asked Friday night whether he preferred to face Maryland or Virginia. “I think in some ways you'd like to try Virginia again because we haven't beaten them” this season, Clark said, “but Sasho and I go back a long time.”
The Terps and Notre Dame drew to a 1-1 tie on Oct. 8 and rode a pair of torrid runs to the College Cup. Maryland has won 11 straight games, and the Fighting Irish are 8-0-1 since losing, 2-0, to the Cavaliers on Oct. 26.
“They move the ball well, they're very good in transition, they defend well on D,” Terps senior forward Patrick Mullins said of Notre Dame. “Hopefully, it'll be a great game [today]. I know we're going to do our part and get our bodies rested and ready to give our best foot forward, and I'm sure they'll be the same. So I expect it to be a really good game.”
Mullins, the defending Hermann Trophy winner and one of three finalists for this season's award, given to the nation's top player, leads the country in goals with 18. Freshman goalkeeper Zack Steffen has surrendered just three goals in the NCAA tournament.
The Fighting Irish are led by senior forward Harrison Shipp, the Atlantic Coast Conference Offensive Player of the Year and another Hermann Trophy finalist, who leads the team in goals (12), assists (nine) and points (33). Sophomore midfielder Patrick Hodan ranks second on the team in goals (11), assists (five) and points (27) and has scored seven goals in his past six games, including at least one in each.
“They have some special players in Shipp and Hodan, but they're just good all over,” Cirovski said. “When we played them last time, it was a 1-1 game. They took an early lead, and I thought we grew up a lot in that game. We really changed a few things that we do and found a way to really claw our way back into the game. I think it made us better, and we'll see what [today]presents. I think it's going to be a great game. I think it's the two best teams in the country. I really believe that, sincerely.”