The University of Maryland Men’s Soccer team set the bar high for NCAA D1 spring schedules around the country. The historic program set out “across the pond” and made an international trip to Great Britain for a series of international friendlies. The iconic NCAA soccer power had a difficult final stretch to the 2017 campaign. The program started 10-0-3 on the season, only to go winless in their last six which included losses in the first round of the Big Ten conference tournament and the first round of the NCAA tournament.
Head coach Sasho Cirovski, responded to the gut-wrenching season by believing in his program and the professional abilities of his players. The spring trip to Europe was slated with three friendlies against U23 squads from notable Premier League clubs. The trip took place from March 16-25 and came with a highly anticipated energy level. The only question that loomed was how the boys from the east coast would do on truly foreign soil and against professional outfits.
Connah's Quay, U.K.
The first game scheduled was against Stoke City’s U-23 side. Sloppy field conditions canceled the game, but fortunately a quick replacement match was set up. The Terps drove a little over an hour to play Connah’s Quay Nomads FC, a Welsh Premier League squad. Maryland, donning all yellow on the occasion, came away with a decisive 3-0 victory. Maryland controlled much of the match and run of play. Paul Bin made dangerous runs down the left side and was rewarded 24 minutes into the match for his efforts when the junior received a pass and then cut past a defender in the box and finished tidily past the keeper to the back post. This type of play continued into the second half and the Terps would tally two more before the final whistle. The game and the result would stamp sort a tone for the remaining two friendlies.
Next up, the boys from College Park were in for a tough test against the Foxes from Leicester City. The English side put out a combination of its U-23 and U-18 teams in a midafternoon kickoff. Sporting all white, the Terps responded in the second friendly much the same way they did in the first against Nomads FC. After a back-and-forth cagy first 10 minutes, Maryland controlled a good majority of the possession. The squad was able to come away with another 3-0 win against LCFC. Paul Bin, again added his name to scoring chart with two of the three Maryland goals, one in each half. Mike Heitzmann added the third and final goal with an electrifying diving header assisted by a sharp cross from Eli Crognale.
Queens Park, London
The third and final match was set to be the Terps toughest and they had a match set with Queens Park Rangers (QPR) U23 reserve squad. The Hoops U23 squad included players that had experience with the club’s first team. However, the American Soccer presence maintained a high level of play and conditioning as they held off QPR and finished the trip with a resounding 5-0 drumming of the English side. Great midfield combination play opened up the game early. Professional soccer prospect Sebastian Elney, maintained a high level of effectiveness throughout the trip. Against QPR, Elney finished off a great ball that was created by tremendous team play down the left side of the pitch. Paul Bin recorded another goal in the game, giving him an impressive 4 goals in three matches.
College Park, Maryland
A strong and consistent back line helped post three shutouts and stifle English and Welsh professional opposition. The trip overall made the program and all the Terps supporters very proud. Cirovski returned from the trip ready to hold an open practice for all coaches in the area. The head man of the Terps was already thinking of how to keep the ball rolling in the community when some would have still been celebrating such an amazing performance on faraway lands.
“Keeping focused” is a term often read when reading about Sasho. It’ll be exciting to see how the spring slate and confidence gained from the trip will translate into the 2018 NCAA season. The spring games made an impression on the recruiting campaign for the Terps, as well as on professional coaches wanting to see how University of Maryland soccer players stack up when leaving college and entering the professional game.
Author: Justin Perna