No. 1 once again: Zusi lifts Terps

The Baltimore Sun

FRISCO, Texas - Graham Zusi scored just six goals for Maryland this season, but they were almost always big ones.

Zusi capped his college soccer career yesterday with the biggest goal of all. It gave the Terrapins (23-3) a 1-0 victory over North Carolina (15-8-1) and their second national championship in four years.

In the 67th minute at Pizza Hut Park, the Terps' Doug Rodkey sent a pass into the center of the field. Maryland's scoring leader, Jeremy Hall, took a shot, but North Carolina's Eddie Ababio blocked it. The ball bounced to Zusi.

"We saw that the ball popping out happened quite a bit against them," Zusi said. "I was in the right place at the right time. I thought the ball was shielded from the goalie, so I tried to curl it around him on the ground at the [left] post."

Said Tar Heels goalie Brooks Haggerty: "I don't know how it got to him, but in goal I saw a guy wide open on top. He had all the time in the world to place the ball. I tried to get over there, but he placed it real well."

Maryland was in position to win its third College Cup title largely because of Zusi. He also scored the only goal in Friday's double-overtime semifinal victory over St. John's.

Zusi was not only the Most Outstanding Offensive Player in the College Cup, but he was also the Terps' senior offensive leader down the stretch.

Of his six goals this season, five were game-winners. Zusi scored the game-winner when Maryland defeated North Carolina, 2-1, in their final regular-season Atlantic Coast Conference game. He added a goal as the Terps opened NCAA tournament play with a 2-0 victory over George Mason and assisted on one as Maryland advanced past California.

"I guess it's just being in the right place and trying to step up at the right time, when the team needs me most," Zusi said.

Maryland coach Sasho Cirovski had a simple explanation.

"He's our attacking midfielder," Cirovski said. "We expect goals from him."

Cirovski and Zusi sat down and watched 90 minutes of video after the Terps won the ACC tournament title.

"At our attack midfielder position we had Stephen King the last three years," Cirovski said. "We broke down the territory when he was playing, and we found that [Zusi] was drifting too wide. Once we realized that, from the Virginia game on, he's been on fire."

The team has been on fire longer than that. The Terps won 16 consecutive games to finish with 23 wins, 15 of those by shutout.

Freshman goalkeeper Zac MacMath made two saves, both in the second half, for his 12th shutout. Junior Omar Gonzalez, a Dallas native, was named the Most Outstanding Defensive Player.

"From the leadership of the seniors with the huge effort from the junior class and sophomores and freshmen, this has been the most balanced team I've ever had," said Cirovski, who has taken the Terps to the NCAA tournament 14 times and also won it in 2005. As a freshman, Zusi scored a goal in a 4-1 victory that put Maryland into the final.

"This team has set the gold standard with the most wins ever, the longest winning streak and the most shutouts," Cirovski said. "This was a marathon, and our 26th game was the 26th mile."

Notes: : Maryland chose the north goal for the first half because of a 25-30 mph wind from the south. However, the Terps' goal came against the wind in the second half. ... A small announced crowd of 6,594 attended the game on a sunny, 76-degree day. ... Joining Zusi and Gonzalez on the College Cup All-Tournament team were Maryland senior defender A.J. Delagarza of Charles County; senior defender-midfielder Rich Costanzo; and sophomore forward Jason Herrick.

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