Maryland Men's Soccer Readies For 2000 Season
Aug. 6, 2000
College Park, Md.- - Head coach Sasho Cirovski, now in his eighth year at Maryland and celebrating his 10th year overall as a head coach, and the Terrapins may appear to have lost a lot last year. Many will question the Terps' ability to combat the offensive losses of both All-American Taylor Twellman and four-year Terrapin Jason Cropley, who not only provided over 60 percent of the Terrapins' offense last season, but both finished their Terrapin careers among Maryland's all-time top 10 in scoring. Others will watch curiously a Terrapin defense void of 6-2 All-American Dan Califf. While the Terps look as if they suffered the greatest losses of any ACC team from last year, the simple fact remains that Maryland is left with a core group of leaders, eight of 11 starters from last year's second-place ACC regular season squad, and they're out to prove something.
"I think when you look at what we lost, we probably lost the most out of the top teams in the ACC," comments Cirovski on the early-season forecast. "We lost guys like Danny (Califf), Taylor (Twellman) and Jason Cropley. We lost three impact players -- I don't think any team came close to that in our conference
"I think teams are probably thinking that we're not going to be quite as strong as we've been the past few seasons. I think teams know we'll be good. Last year, many observers picked us to win everything and we weren't quite up to their challenge. Hopefully this year it will work the other way. I kind of like that role -- maybe we can surprise a few people."
Since Cirovski's arrival at Maryland, the Terrapins have consistently made strides toward excellence. In 1994, Cirovski's second year, Maryland returned to the NCAA tournament for the first time in eight years. 1996 saw the Terrapins' first-ever ACC tournament championship with a 2-0 win over Virginia. In 1998, Maryland returned to the national semifinals for the first time since 1969. This season, Maryland is looking to eclipse even that accomplishment. Last season was the Terps' sixth straight trip to the NCAA tournament. This year the Terps are looking for No. 7 in a row -- and beyond.
Returning in goal for the Terrapins after offseason back surgery on a herniated disc, two-year starter Christian Lewis should be back to his old self when Maryland opens up at the Virginia Coca-Cola Classic on Sept. 1. The Ellicott City native missed five starts last year due to the injury, but still managed to end the season equaling his 1998 total of seven shutouts. Lewis returns as one of the top keepers in the ACC and is one of only four seniors on the Terrapin squad this year. Lewis had a 0.97 goals against average last season in 14 starts.
Even when Lewis was sidelined last season, the Terps never skipped a beat with back-up Kevin Schmidt stepping in at goal. Schmidt, a junior this season, did not see action his freshman year, a year when Lewis played every minute of every game Maryland was on the field. His first collegiate appearance was in relief in the Terrapins' third game of the 1999 season, a 4-0 win over Marshall.
It was against George Mason on Oct. 13 that Schmidt would make his first collegiate start. In five games as the Terps' starting keeper while Lewis received back treatments, Schmidt and the Terps had a 4-1 record including a 1-0 overtime decision against William & Mary in which key saves down the stretch helped put the Terps in position to win in the overtime.
According to Cirovski, "Our goalkeeping situation is similar to last year between Christian and Kevin, but I expect both to be better this year. It's going to be an area where we need to display a lot of consistency and leadership."
The Maryland defense, one of the strongest links for the Terrapins for the past few years, should come back as good as ever this season. Team co-captains Beckett Hollenbach and Nick Downing join senior starter Mike Shebuski to provide a veteran presence for Maryland in the back. The trio will look to spell the loss of Dan Califf, who opted to forgo his final two years of eligibility and was drafted by the Los Angeles Galaxy as the sixth overall pick in the 2000 MLS Superdraft.
"If you look at the key areas, in goal we should have a senior or a junior. In the central defense, we'll have two high-level juniors who are two of our co-captains. Two of our three or four backs will be either juniors, seniors, or co-captains," Cirovski points out of his potential on-field make-up. "Defensive midfield, which is also a key leadership position, should be Rob Birch's position, and he is also a senior. So, in the key areas of our team, the most influential positions in terms of organizing and leadership, we should have people who've been around a little bit who are hungry."
Hollenbach, though plagued with injuries last season, had a healthy spring displaying the consistency and leadership that mark his game. A two-year starter, the Pennsylvania native is serving his second year as team captain. He is a returning second-team All-ACC pick for the Terps, and is relied upon to spark Maryland's build from the back.
An All South Atlantic Region selection in 1999, Downing will likely play centrally in the back, whether the Terps go with a three- or four-back system this fall. A two-year starter, Downing will be an impact defender both in ACC play and on a national level with the Terps this season. Downing's quickness and agility should pace the Terps' defensive efforts early on.
Shebuski enters his final year as one of the ACC's most underrated defenders. A gritty, tenacious defender, Shebuski will remain on the right side of the Terps' back line this season and is the only returning Terrapin who started all 20 games last season. After an exceptional spring, junior Tyler Pharr will fight for a starting position in the Terps' defensive mix this season. Fellow Texan Philip Salyer, who has burst onto the U.S. Under-20 scene, will also vie for time in his inaugural campaign at Maryland.
Senior starter Rob Birch will anchor a midfield unit, which will also contain some familiar faces. Returning with the two-year starter will be sophomores Scott Buete, Sumed Ibrahim, and Siba Mohammed. Buete started 19 games last year for the Terps, and was second on the team in assists with eight. Using his quickness to the goal, Buete also scored twice for the Terps, including the game-winner over ACC-rival Virginia.
Sumed Ibrahim was another Terrapin who was plagued by injury last season, fighting a groin pull most of the fall. The Ghana native still managed a goal and two assists in 14 starts during the 1999 season. A sophomore, Sumed Ibrahim will be joined by fellow countryman Siba Mohammed, who started five games and saw critical reserve minutes in 13 other games. He ended the season with four goals and six assists, and underwent two knee surgeries during the offseason. A lot of Siba Mohammed's performance will depend on the rehabilitation from those surgeries, but the attacking midfielder had a solid fall last season for the Terps and should be able to build on that.
"I think last year, we were very young in the midfield," says Cirovski. "This year our midfield will be stronger, more mature and should be a strength of ours, and as a result create better quality chances for the forwards."
In addition to the four returners at midfield for the Terrapins, Maryland has three new faces in the mix there as well. New Jersey native Matt Roberts, an Under-17 National team pool member, will be more of a defensive midfielder for the Terrapins who possesses a tremendous work ethic and excellent passing skills.
A two-time All-Arizona player and Region IV standout, Bryan Vitagliano also has the potential to impact the Terrapins immediately in the midfield. Horizon High School's career leading scorer, he is a dynamic presence when going to the goal from either the attacking midfield, or striker positions.
The final newcomer in the midfield mix is Virginia native Jason Arnold, who played for the 1999 U-17 national champion Braddock Road Warhawks club team, and has the ability to immediately impact things in the midfield.
Perhaps the biggest questions marks for the Terrapins from an outsider's viewpoint would be the striker positions. Despite the losses of All-American Taylor Twellman and four-year Terrapin Jason Cropley, the Terps return a strong stable of attackers, and welcome others who have the potential to have an immediate impact on the Terrapins' offense. 1998 Parade and NSCAA Player of the Year A.J. Herrera is Maryland's top returning scorer this season. This year, Herrera will be moving from the midfield to more of a striker position in the Terps' attack. His speed will be counted on to create scoring opportunities for a young Terrapin frontline.
Senior Nick Purdom and sophomore Reed Rickert are the only other veterans who return for the Terrapins up front. Both played a reserve role last year, but after having quality spring seasons should play more of a role in Maryland's attack this season.
"I think at times we relied too much last year on people waiting for Taylor (Twellman) to find a way to score a goal or to use (Jason) Cropley's speed to enable us to get something," commented Cirovski.
"A.J.'s proved he can play at that level up front, so has newcomer Abe Thompson, so its going to be our job to make sure that we're better connected and to spread the load. That doesn't mean that we won't have one guy score a lot of goals, but I just think that we'll be less reliant on one person."
Thompson hails from nearby Fairfax, Va. and attended W.T. Woodson High School with fellow classmate Clarence Goodson. Both were teammates of incoming midfielder Jason Arnold for the 1999 national champion Braddock Road Warhawks club team. Thompson, an Under-17 national team striker, was an NSCAA and Parade All-American choice who has an excellent feel around the goal. Goodson is also a true forward who will figure in the young mix up front.
Ohio-native Seth Stammler also joins the front line attack for the Terrapins. Stammler has been training with the Columbus Crew of MLS during the summer, and will bring another technically good striker into the mix.
Overall, the Terps field a team with chemistry and a midfield vastly
experienced from last year's. With veterans a staple in the Maryland
back, and a host of bright stars up front, the Terps look to remain a
nationally prominent team -- no matter what others may believe.