Each week during the 2013-14 season a Maryland student-athlete who has shown excellence on and off the playing field will be selected as the Solomon Eye Associates Terp of the Week. This week's Solomon Eye Associates Terps of the Week is the Maryland men’s soccer backline. Freshmen Zack Steffen, Chris Odoi-Atsem, Suli Dainkeh, sophomore Mikey Ambrose, and senior Jereme Raley helped propel the league champions to three straight shutouts in the program’s final ACC tournament.
One might wonder how in the world Maryland men’s soccer head coach Sasho Cirovski still manages to have so much hair on his head.
The Terrapin field general and match maestro – now in his 21st season – has done it once again. After a rocky start to the 2013 campaign, including an uncharacteristic 10 goals surrendered in the first four matches of the season inflicting a large number of sleepless nights and late video sessions for the coaching staff, the Maryland defense picked the perfect time to shine last week.
The youth-laden unit – which consists of three freshmen, a sophomore and a senior - mustered three shutouts en route to the program’s second straight conference tournament championship and earned well-deserved Terp of the Week honors for its role in bringing the ACC trophy home to College Park one last time.
“I’m just so proud of our team. To get three shutouts in this league after the way we started early in the year shows that we have the championship fiber that it takes,” Cirovski said. “In 21 years, Maryland’s never won back-to-back ACC regular season and tournament titles. It’s pretty incredible.”
In front of rookie keeper Zack Steffen, sophomore Mikey Ambrose and senior Jereme Raley mentor freshmen centerbacks Chris Odoi-Atsem and Suli Dainkeh. While these four may possess the label ‘defender’, defense – as played by the Maryland Terrapins – is and always has been an entire team employment.
“The backline has grown a lot,” Dan Metzger, a junior captain and one of the nation’s premier defensive midfielders, said. “We’ve become more connected as far as the back four and I and it showed in this tournament. We work for each other and those in front of us.”
“The key has been the work of the players in front of them,” Cirovski added. “From the forwards to the midfielders, we’ve been much more connected as a group and it has shown.”
Since the Terps’ shaky 1-2-2 start, Maryland has put together a fantastic run by consistently emphasizing defensive growth while allowing their offense to continue to score at a feverish rate. In its last 16 matches, the Terps are 12-1-3 and have allowed a mere 14 goals. The Terps are outscoring opponents 32-14 during that timeframe - a far cry from their early-season woes.
“I’m really proud of how much they’ve learned and digested and how committed they’ve been to improve,” Cirovski said. “We don’t take losing or tying lightly at the University of Maryland but they’ve become opportunities to get better. This team has taken on the challenge of getting better. They’ve bought into the idea of how important defending is.”
Maryland picked up the No. 5 seed in the NCAA Men’s Soccer Championship and will play host to a second round match this Sunday at Ludwig.
Heading into that contest, the Terps will boast a shutout streak dating back to an overtime win against Virginia Tech Nov. 8 which clinched a share of the ACC regular season title. That’s nearly 284 minutes of squeaky clean defensive work for a group whose gritty effort has put Maryland among the nation’s elite yet again.