With Cirovski as Coach, Maryland Soccer Reaches New Heights

Maryland Coach Sasho Cirovski holds the trophy after the Terps' national championship win in 2005.
Maryland Coach Sasho Cirovski holds the trophy after the Terps' national championship win in 2005. (By Gerry Broome -- Associated Press)
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By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 12, 2008

Before Sasho Cirovski was hired to coach the Maryland men's soccer team in 1993, home games were played in the middle of the day and the few dozen spectators watched from a small set of bleachers and embankments. The scoreboard told you the goal total, the time and little else.

The field was not suited for the cooling autumn weather and turned brown -- a drab hint that another second-rate season was drawing to a close.

In a 23-year span before Cirovski's arrival, the Terrapins went to the NCAA tournament five times, never winning a game. Top local prospects from one of the richest youth soccer areas in the country committed to Virginia and other fully funded programs.

"I remember coming to games as a teenager, and there wasn't any home-field atmosphere," said Howard County native Russell Payne, a goalkeeper in Cirovski's first four years and now a Maryland assistant coach. "I'd go to see the games against Virginia and Howard, and I was like, 'Everyone is rooting for the other team.' People didn't think much of Maryland. Things have changed."

In so many ways.

The Terrapins' semifinal tonight against St. John's in suburban Dallas marks their fifth appearance in seven years in the College Cup, as the NCAA semifinals and final are known. They boast the nation's longest winning streak (14), the most victories (21) in any of the program's 63 seasons, the best home attendance mark in the Atlantic Coast Conference and a roster with several pro prospects.

"I had hoped that we would reach this level, but once you get there, you recognize how special it is because of how hard it is to maintain that level of excellence," said Cirovski, 46, who has a 234-102-20 record and 14 NCAA tournament appearances in 16 seasons.

Maryland's victory total this year is more than the combined wins in the three seasons before Cirovski's arrival (20).

"Sasho was the great hope for us," said Athletic Director Debbie Yow, who came to Maryland a year after Cirovski. "He sold Maryland well because he believed in the place."

In Cirovski's first season, however, the Terrapins had a 3-14-1 record, their worst in 13 years. By the next fall, with the maximum number of scholarships available and the arrival of local talent, they made the first of four consecutive trips to the second round of the NCAA tournament. The breakthrough came in 1998 with the team's first final four berth in 29 years. Maryland lost in the semifinals in 2002, '03 and '04 as well, but the next fall won its first national title since 1968.

During Cirovski's tenure, about 30 Terrapins have gone to the pros, including Glasgow Rangers midfielder Maurice Edu and MLS scoring ace Taylor Twellman. Many have left school early, but with an annual addition of high school all-Americans, Maryland has endured. "It's a source of pride because you win with juniors and seniors, and a lot of years we haven't had a lot of them," said Cirovski, who might lose juniors Omar Gonzalez and Jeremy Hall this offseason.

Boosting Maryland's attractiveness were improvements to multipurpose Ludwig Field: lights, a modern scoreboard, permanent seats on one side, raised student seating a few yards behind the endlines and signboards framing the field. One obstacle to additional seating was a pole vault pit used by the track and field team. Cirovski raised $46,000 to have it rebuilt in a nearby location.

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