Dec. 14, 2008
FRISCO, Texas - The Maryland men's soccer team needed to prove twice why it was the best team in the ACC and it did just that and more Sunday, defeating North Carolina, 1-0, off a game-winner from senior Graham Zusi to capture the 2008 NCAA National Championship at Pizza Hut Park in Frisco, Texas.
From the onset, it appeared quite obvious that this was the third matchup between the two teams this season. North Carolina and Maryland players nearly shadowed each other for the majority of the first half, neither allowing much space to operate. UNC (15-8-1) took the first shot and corner kick of the match as well as tallying more scoring opportunities in the first 20 minutes than Maryland faced the entire semifinal Friday against St. John's.
But Maryland (23-3-0) caught momentum midway through the first period when the Terps had a pair of opportune corner kicks in the 23rd minute. Jason Herrick attempted a header off the first corner that was saved by UNC keeper Brooks Haggerty and another was dribbled around and sent to Matt Kassel, who took a long-range shot that was blocked. Three minutes later, Rodney Wallace served a nice ball to Jason Herrick who scored while dashing up the middle of the box, but the goal was brought back after an offside penalty was issued.
The Terps continued firing, picking up a total of seven shots in the first stanza. Rodkey had a strike go wide left at 35:21 and Herrick had a chance go directly at Haggerty 30 seconds later. Zusi lined up for a free kick at 37:19 that stretched back just a bit farther than his game-winner Friday, but it was also saved by Haggerty. The game went into the half knotted at zeros.
The Tar Heels registered the first shot of the half again in the second period, this time with the benefit of the wind at its back. But the Maryland backline continued to persevere, knocking the ball away from the goal into the intense wind and leaving Carolina forwards Brian Shriver and Billy Schuler with few scoring opportunities.
Maryland kept applying pressure up front as well and finally got on the board at 66:10. Doug Rodkey crossed a ball to Jeremy Hall in the middle of the field, whose shot was blocked but the rebound beneficially made its way to Zusi 18-yards out. Zusi wasted little time, took it off the bounce and fired a laser to the keeper's right for the score.
Freshman keeper Zac MacMath, who showed the maturity of a veteran between the pipes, would take it from there, making a great sliding save against a shot by UNC's Michael Callahan with less than ten minutes remaining to preserve the lead and the championship for Maryland. It was the 19th consecutive win for the rookie keeper.
The title is the third for the Maryland men's soccer program and the second in the past four seasons. Head coach Sasho Cirovski now boasts two national championships, as do departing seniors A.J. Delagarza, Michael Marchiano and Zusi, who all played reserve roles in the 2005 championship. The 2008 edition has set what Cirovski coined as the `gold standard', setting a school-record for wins (23) and shutouts (15) in a season as well as winning both the ACC and NCAA championships. The Terps will take a 16-game winning streak into the 2009 campaign.
"Our goal at the beginning of the year was to be the last team standing," Cirovski, who became the Maryland career-leader in wins earlier this season, said. "Our motto was from the Home Depot Center to Pizza Hut Park. The leadership of the seniors along with the hunger of the junior class and the sophomore class as well as the freshmen made this the most balanced team I have ever had."
In addition to Zusi, junior Omar Gonzalez was named Most Outstanding Defensive Player of the tournament. Delagarza, senior defender Rich Costanzo and sophomore forward Jason Herrick were named to the all-tournament team.