July 11, 1997
The 1997 Maryland men's soccer roster has one very dominating characteristic - experience.
It all begins with Sasho Cirovski, who is entering his fifth season as the team's head coach, and culminates with 14 returning letterwinners, 10 of whom are upperclassmen. In fact, the seniors on this season's team have managed a three-year record of 41-18-6, and have appeared in three consecutive NCAA Championships. They were key contributors last season when Maryland made its run towards the Atlantic Coast Conference championship which ended with the Terps' 2-0 win over No. 1-ranked Virginia in Charlottesville.
"This is the most talented and experienced group of players we have returned since I have been here," said Cirovski confidently. "This is the most determined group we have had. They are extremely focused. No one liked the way the season ended last year (the 3-0 loss to William & Mary in the NCAA Second Round). It was a heartbreaking and devastating loss," he continued.
Two-time All-ACC selection, and a 1997 Player of the Year candidate, Leo Cullen, headlines the 1997 edition of the Maryland soccer team. The senior from Burnsville, Minn., is the glue of the Terrapin defense, and enters his senior season as one of the most remarkable defenders in Maryland men's soccer history. Cullen earned Soccer America First Team All-America honors, and was a NSCAA Second Team All-American in 1996. Cullen's defensive skills make him one of the most feared players in the country, and his leadership skills are a model for the Terrapin squad. "Leo Cullen will not only be the best player in the country, but could be the best leader we have had here
Seniors Joe Marshburn and R.T. Moore compliment Cullen well in the backfield. Moore, one of the most underrated defenders at the national level, has started and played in every game since his freshman year. Moore is a deceptively strong defensive leader and ball winner, and his steady ball-winning skills will give the Terrapins an effective transition game into the offensive end of the field. Marshburn also returns as an anchor of the Maryland defensive unit. He plays with the aggressiveness and the intensity that Cirovski demands of his defensemen.
Senior Mike McIlwain is a strong, quick shooter who can score from any angle. As a junior, McIlwain played in 20 games, getting the starting nod in five, and scored three goals and added three assists. McIlwain will provide strong senior leadership to the midfield and forward position.
"This entire senior class knows nothing but NCAA Championships...they have been to three Sweet Sixteens, and none of them will be satisfied with anything but a Final Four appearance, and a chance to win the National Championship," said Cirovski.
Undoubtedly, the junior class is the most talent-laden group of athletes on this year's squad. Steve Armas, Keith Beach, Judah Cooks, Pierre Venditti, Randy Merkel and Kevin Walsh combined to score 60 of Maryland's 169 points last season.
Beach, a Second Team All-ACC selection in 1996, scored three goals and had a team-high 11 assists, and returns as the Terps' top scorer. He tied an ACC Tournament record after scoring five assists in the Terps' three tournament games. Beach joins Armas in the midfield to form one of the most lethal attack combinations in the country.
The 5-8 Armas is considered one of the Terps' most valuable offensive weapons, and returns to the starting lineup for the third consecutive season. Armas' last-minute goal against James Madison lifted the Terps to a 2-1 victory over the Dukes in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
Cooks has all of the tools and determination to be one of the top midfielders in the country, and has emerged as one of the top defensive midfielders as well. The 6-0 Maryland native can attack and score from anywhere on the field, and can be doubly powerful, playing at both the midfield and forward positions. Cooks' four goals last season was fourth-best on the Terp squad.
Merkel, a relative newcomer to the Maryland campus, is one of the most athletic wide midfielders on the team. A transfer from Penn State, Merkel totaled two goals and added four assists in his first year in a Maryland uniform. He will be counted on to shoot and score more in 1997. Merkel can also fill in at goalie where, during spring ball, he recorded a shutout against the defending national champion, St. John's.
Venditti returns as the third leading scorer on the squad. The 1996 ACC Tournament MVP will continue to share the scoring load this season. Venditti is a multi-talented player who utilizes his speed to beat opponents with or without the ball. Venditti ended the '96 campaign strong, scoring in each one of the Terps' ACC Tournament games, including the game-winning goal in Maryland's 2-0 win over then-No. 1-ranked Virginia to give the Terps their first-ever ACC Championship.
Jason Bent, Jason Cropley, Jaime Eichmann and Andy Kirk complete the list of the 14 returning letterwinners. These four sophomores each bring a wealth of experience to the squad.
Bent was the only sophomore to play and start in 21 games, missing two games due to injury. An excellent midfielder, Bent has the ability to completely control the tempo of the game. His tremendous speed and his nose for the goal make him one of the most deadly scorers in the country. Bent's tremendous passing abilities allowed him to score seven assists which placed him second on the team. He also recorded three goals.
Cropley, a California native, is the Terps' second leading returning scorer from a year ago. His eight goals was second on the team behind departing senior Shane Dougherty's 15. He has quickly established himself as one of the top up-and-coming collegiate players in the country. He, too, is an extremely versatile athlete who can play both the wide midfield and forward positions.
Eichmann enjoyed a fine spring season where he got the starting nod against St. John's. He appeared in 14 games last year, scoring one goal against Hofstra. He possesses great technical skills, vision and solid footwork.
Kirk returns for his sophomore season after earning the starting goalkeeper position for the U.S. Under-20 National Team that played at the FIFA World Youth Championships in Malaysia this past summer. Kirk enters this season after a year of solid experience playing behind departed senior and four-year starter Russell Payne. He possesses tremendous poise with an explosive first step, and will become one of the most exciting and talented goalkeepers in the country. Kirk appeared in four games last year, recording 16 saves and allowing four goals. He posted 3.5 shutouts in his four appearances which made him one of the leaders in the ACC.
In addition to the returnees, Cirovski will count heavily on nine newcomers to add depth, punch and defense to the Terrapin efforts. "It is a solid, large class. We have several players who will emerge as top collegiate players," said Cirovski. We have the depth this year that we haven't always had, and we have a lot of young players coming in who were not recruited by a lot of people, but wanted to come here for the challenge."
Transfer Adam McMahon (Illinois Benedictine College) will bring some immediate experience. McMahon, an athletic and sound technical player, has the ability to direct the defense.
Freshman Rob Birch should fit easily into the Terrapin style of play, and will add a finishing dimension from the midfield and striker positions. Birch demonstrated his offensive talents as he led St. John's the Baptist to the New York State high school championship in 1996 and '97. Freshman Josh Kliebe is a strong and athletic midfielder who will be converted to a defender.
Christian Lewis, a 6-0 freshman goalkeeper from Ellicott City, Md., will be a great understudy to returning goalie Andy Kirk. Lewis, who has great hands and vision and distributes the ball well, will push for playing time. Freshman forward Kirk Miller is being called the "Wynalda" of this year's recruiting class. He is skillful with both feet, is good in the air, and possesses a dynamic style of play to go along with a desirable work ethic. Miller has the ability to contribute immediately.
Maryland native Brian Otten will see playing time at the defensive midfield position or anywhere in the back. Otten, a veteran of the Maryland ODP state teams, will solidfy Maryland's ball possession scheme. Freshman Greg Ramos, a 5-9 midfielder from Bethlehem, Pa., is a skillful left-footer who has the versatility to play at either the midfield or the back position.
Two-time First Team NSCAA High School All-American Jason Sardis possesses a great knack for scoring, and his hard work will add depth to the Maryland forward position. He will challenge for a starting position and have an immediate impact on the success of this year's team. Freshman Mike Shebuski is a tenacious defender and a fierce competitor. He is a great passer who distributes the ball well.
The non-conference schedule may not resemble the preseason Top 20 poll, but it's still loaded with national powers Wisconsin, George Mason and Ohio State. The rematch with Virginia is on Saturday, September 13 in College Park.
"Maryland will be very competitive this year in the ACC. However, with our experience these last two years, it should help get us over the edge in the close, competitive games," Cirovski said.
The 1997 Maryland men's soccer team is loaded with talent and heart which will keep the Terps on track to another great year.
"I knew the way the team treated the loss against William & Mary in the NCAA Tournament last year that we are going to have something special this year," concluded Cirovski.