Marc Burch's first and only soccer season as a Maryland Terrapin wasn't unfolding as well as he and his coach had hoped. Through two months, the senior transfer's only goal had come during a midseason blowout at Georgetown, and he had failed to secure a starting forward role.

But as the postseason arrived, so did Burch's long-awaited contributions.

He scored in the top-seeded Terrapins' NCAA tournament opener, a 1-0 victory over Brown, and provided two assists during a 3-1 triumph over St. John's last weekend, lifting Maryland within one win of a fourth consecutive trip to the final four.

The Terps (17-4-1) will face ninth-seeded Akron (18-1-3) in the quarterfinals at 1 p.m. today at Ludwig Field in College Park.

"Marc has been gaining confidence in training and games over the last couple weeks," Coach Sasho Cirovski said. "You can see that he is playing with a level of maturity and confidence and connectedness with the rest of the team that he didn't have earlier in the year. We need that from him. He's become a very important part of our run here."

Burch played three years at Evansville (Ind.), leading the Missouri Valley Conference in assists as a freshman, but with the once-powerful program in decline, he began looking for other opportunities. His connection to Maryland was senior defender Kenney Bertz, an old club soccer teammate in their native Ohio.

Cirovski was hesitant to accept a player with only a year of eligibility remaining, but with the Terps in need of a veteran attacker following the graduation of Abe Thompson, he offered Burch a roster spot.

Besides his Evansville experience, Burch had gained valuable playing time in international competition with both the U.S. under-18 and under-20 national teams.

"I talked to a lot of teams, but Maryland just seemed like the best place for me," said Burch, the youngest of eight kids, most of whom played college soccer. His brother Joe was a standout at Bowling Green and had a minor league career; other siblings played at Evansville, Syracuse and Cincinnati.

Marc Burch began to emerge at Maryland on Nov. 4, when he scored an overtime game-winner at Virginia Tech in the regular season finale. After the Terps were ousted in the semifinals of the ACC tournament, Cirovski noticed Burch's sharp play in practice and rewarded him with the start against Brown.

The move impacted the starting lineup as freshman forward Robbie Rogers (the team's third-leading scorer with seven goals) dropped into the midfield and left-side midfielder Maurice Edu slid into a central role.

"I wouldn't say I was frustrated, I just wanted to be out there. I wanted to help out the team in some way," Burch said of his reserve role much of the second half of the regular season. "It's been good to get that chance to start again."

Burch's emergence has helped alleviate pressure on senior forward Jason Garey, the second-leading scorer in the country with 20 goals and the favorite to win several national player of the year awards. While Garey has been held without a goal in the NCAA tournament, Burch and sophomore midfielder Stephen King (two goals against St. John's) have displayed another dangerous dimension to the attack in Maryland's pursuit of its first national title in 37 years.

"It has definitely turned out well," Burch said. "The last couple weeks have been great. I'm contributing to the team and we're getting closer to the final four. Everything has come together for us."

Terrapins Notes: Garey, Bertz and defender Chris Lancos were among 54 players invited to the MLS scouting combine, Jan. 12-15 in Carson, Calif. . . . Akron, whose only loss came in overtime at two-time defending champion Indiana, leads the nation in scoring (3.05 goals per game) and goals against average (0.48).