Before the Maryland men’s soccer team marched onto Ludwig Field and clinched its first College Cup berth since 2008 with a 3-1 victory over Louisville this evening, Coach Sasho Cirovski gathered his group following a Friday training session in the Terrapins’ locker room and waxed nostalgic.
The inspiration swells when looking at Maryland’s senior class, a decorated bunch that had never enjoyed a College Cup trip, something every other Terps senior class since 1994 had done. It fueled them throughout the season, even as Maryland surged to a 16-game undefeated streak and a No. 1 national ranking. The seniors viewed their past as motivation rather than a burden.
“With every passing game we got better and better, and it was important for me to make sure that the team understood that it’s good to have that inspiration in the back of your head, but it can’t hold you back,” Cirovski said. “We don’t need any additional pressure, we need to go out and play for the joy of it, so we can create some of our own history.”
When Wake Forest spoiled the unbeaten bid in the regular season finale on Nov. 1, the Terps responded by reeling off four straight wins entering Saturday night, capped off by a 5-1 drubbing of Coastal Carolina. Maryland was nearly perfect against 10th-ranked Louisville too, going up 2-1 with a Jake Pace goal 40 seconds before halftime, and stamping the trip to Hoover, Ala. on a Patrick Mullins rebound midway through the second half.
It was sweet vengeance for last season’s 4-2 loss to the Cardinals at Ludwig in the NCAA tournament, the last time Maryland had its College Cup bid spoiled. The Terps beat Louisville, 3-0, in the season opener, but it really took until Saturday to finally get even.
“This group of seniors was not going to let that pass us by,” Cirovski said. “They worked their butts off, and it started the day after we lost to Louisville last year. There were kids already in the weight room and on the field, starting the process. We had a great spring, a great summer and obviously a great fall. But we’re not satisfied with getting to the College Cup. The preparation’s already started, and we’ll be ready to roll on Friday.”
Senior Taylor Kemp, who has battled injury all season and missed the past three games, gritted through the entire game and assisted on classmate London Woodberry’s goal in the 33rd minute that put Maryland up 1-0.
“He had a couple good days of training this week,” Cirovski said of Kemp. “We could see he was ready to go. What a difference he made. He was fantastic tonight. That’s the kind of story lines we’ve had all year.”
The national story lines swirled around Ludwig Field, Maryland’s senior class notwithstanding. Louisville will replace the Terps in the ACC once Maryland bolts for the Big Ten. Now Maryland will face Georgetown in the semifinals, a team Maryland Athletic Director Kevin Anderson has said will not face the Terps in regular season games in any sport until their men’s basketball scheduling controversy gets settled.
But among this group, which outshot Louisville 16-5, had eight more corner kicks and needed just one save from goalie Keith Cardona to give Cirovski his seventh College Cup appearance, little of that mattered.
“I can’t even describe it. I’m emotional,” Kemp said. “After the game I couldn’t’ stop smiling. For me and the other seniors, every single player on this team, I’ve never been on a team, we do every single thing we can to help each other succeed.
“You always wonder, is it actually going to pay off? Is it really going to matter? I couldn’t imagine a better year for this team. It’s been tough for me, but this season is one that isn’t done, but it’s something that I’ll never forget. This team has meant as much to be as any team I’ve ever been on. For me and the seniors and everybody, it means everything right now.”