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Maryland men's soccer reloads after disappointing end to 2014

Maryland men's soccer reloads after disappointing end to 2014
Maryland players celebrate after the Terps won their first-ever Big Ten Tournament championship with a 2-1 victory against Indiana on Nov. 16, 2014. (Baltimore Sun)

Turnover happens and players come and go, but Sasho Cirovski's goals for his Maryland men's soccer team remain the same every season.

"The expectation is to be the last team standing, both in the Big Ten and nationally," the 23rd-year coach said Tuesday. "That's the Maryland soccer expectation."

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Of the 26 players on the Terps roster for this fall, 13 are newcomers, including 11 freshmen. That, coupled with one of the toughest schedules in the nation, creates an uphill climb for a Maryland team that's coming off a season in which it won the Big Ten Conference championship but didn't advance to the NCAA tournament third round for the first time since 2001 after an upset loss to UMBC.

But that won't stop the Terps, ranked No. 13 in the preseason NSCAA poll, from plunging headlong into a schedule that starts with No. 3 Notre Dame on Friday and features matchups with No. 1 UCLA and No. 25 Akron next weekend.

"Playing these teams early on gives us a taste of what we expect to see later in the tournament and later in the season," junior defender Alex Crognale said. "So playing the top caliber teams early … gives us a good gauge of where we're at and lets us know what we need to work on moving forward."

Maryland lost six seniors last season, including stalwart midfielder Dan Metzger, while defender Mikey Ambrose and standout goalkeeper Zack Steffen signed professional contracts, and those departures leave some significant voids for the Terps' newcomers to fill.

The Terps' recruiting class features seven players with national team experience and seven players ranked in Top Drawer Soccer's top 100. Forward Sebastian Elney was ranked No. 13 by Top Drawer Soccer and No. 4 by College Soccer News, which also ranks Maryland's class as the best in the nation.

Cirovski said freshman Diego Silva, who hails from Buenos Aires, Argentina, is the leader to replace Ambrose at left back and plays like a combination of Ambrose and his predecessor, Taylor Kemp, "with his own little Argentinian tastes."

Senior midfielder Mael Corboz, the team's leading scorer a year ago with 10 goals, is expected to help ease the loss of Metzger, along with fellow senior Tsubasa Endoh.

"I don't think our midfield will be any worse off from last year," Corboz said. "If anything, we'll take a step up. We have some freshmen who can step in right away and play, and we have transfers who can do the same. We might have to move a few pieces around, and I know a lot of guys are willing to play different positions in the midfield, but I think we'll be on par with last year, if not better."

The most intriguing position battle for Maryland, though, is to replace Steffen, who started for the U.S. National Team at the U-20 World Cup this summer. Steffen left Maryland after posting nine shutouts and a 0.84 goals against average last season to sign with SC Freiburg in the Bundesliga in Germany.

Redshirt junior Cody Niedermeier (Broadneck) will start against Notre Dame on Friday at the adidas/IU Credit Union Classic in Bloomington, Ind., for the first time in his career after serving as a backup and battling injuries in the first three years of his Maryland career. But Niedermeier will battle with freshman Dayne St. Clair, a Pickering, Ontario native who played for the U-18 Canadian national team, for the starting job.

"I just hope [Niedermeier] can maintain a level of health that he deserves because he deserves some good luck," Cirovski said. "But the goalkeeper position is not locked down. We've got two talented players and we'll see how it translates. But I think both of them are such good people and good teammates, they'll be supportive of each other."

After advancing to the College Cup in 2012 and 2013 and falling short in the semifinals and final, respectively, Cirovski and the Terps are searching for their first national title since 2008. With such a grueling schedule, they know there are bound to be stumbles and growing pains for such a heralded group of new players.

"It's a talented group," Cirovski said. "There's a reason why this group was rated so highly, and it's going to be our job to make sure that we integrate them properly and put everybody in place to succeed."

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