Four Maryland men’s soccer players return to the field for unofficial MLS combine
Defender Matt Di Rosa strikes the ball in Maryland men’s soccer’s 3-0 loss to Wake Forest on Nov. 24, 2019. (Julia Nikhinson/The Diamondback)
Four Maryland men’s soccer seniors stepped out onto a brightly lit field on Nov. 13, ready for a competitive match. There were fans in the stands and scouts watching diligently on the sidelines. Everything seemed normal.
“It kind of felt like Ludwig again,” right back Ben Di Rosa said.
But it wasn’t. The four Terps were at a training facility in Kansas City, taking the field with rosters full of unfamiliar faces. And there, on that field miles from their usual Friday night setting, they engaged in their first competitive match in months — facing off against the top talents in college soccer at an unofficial combine.
Although it differed from a usual setup — there were no interviews or fitness tests — the weekend-long event offered something perhaps more valuable: a sense of normalcy and an opportunity to show off their pro credentials, even after a year without competition.
“I really enjoyed the experience,” winger Paul Bin said. “I think it was really good for all of us in terms of exposure, just putting ourselves out there for teams and agents.”
Bin, Eric Matzelevich, Matt Di Rosa and his brother Ben Di Rosa all made the trip for the invite-only weekend event. They played three matches in as many days, taking the field in front of both United Soccer League and Major League Soccer scouts, trying to stand out from a field of 80 invitees. And the packed field fostered a real sense of competition.
“It’s definitely nice to get some meaningful and competitive games and play people that we’re not used to playing,” Matt Di Rosa said.
Though the combine drew from colleges nationwide — including some that have already finished their fall seasons — Maryland’s players arrived fresher than some of their counterparts. The Terps have been holding intrasquad scrimmages regularly throughout the fall, staying fresh and fit despite the lack of real competitive opportunities.
The four seniors trained for the combine themselves, as well. Extra running after practice and mentally preparing for a more intense environment kept them ready for the weekend’s rigorous environment.
“Game fitness is a little bit of a different animal. The intrasquad scrimmages definitely helped us get back to game fitness,” Matt Di Rosa said.
Three of the four Terps also had something of an advantage. Though the teams were selected randomly, Matzelevich and both Di Rosas found themselves on the same squad, which helped the fluidity of their play — especially amid a field of relative unknowns.
“It was really great that me, Matt and Ben were on the same team. It was kind of a cheat code,” Matzelevich said.
That left Bin as the odd man out, playing his first competitive fixture since Maryland’s national championship win in December 2018. However, the South Korean player made an impact on the right wing, notably showing a burst of pace past a defender before floating across to an open forward — the kind of move that made him one of the most dynamic attacking threats in the nation during Maryland’s College Cup run.
And little moments like that helped Bin regain some confidence, a lot of which was lost after an ACL tear kept him out of the 2019 season.
“Something clicked,” Bin said. “I got all my confidence back, and I was just really enjoying the three games I played in. I was playing with a lot of swagger, with a lot of confidence.”
Participants left Kansas City with many questions unanswered; a lack of interviews with scouts and no fitness tests left the athletes resigned to evaluating their own performances.
Still, as the draft approaches, the Terps could well be hearing from professional scouts
“I surely hope all of the MLS staff do a much deeper dive in recruiting than what they saw at that combine. I imagine there’s still a lot of kids with a lot of rust,” head coach Sasho Cirovski said.
For now, Matzelevich, Bin and the Di Rosa brothers are waiting. A draft and subsequent signing period is coming, but a date is yet to be announced. A collegiate season could start in mid-February, but no schedule has been determined. So, as the players reflect on their performance, one sentiment keeps them focused.
“The one thing we do know right now is that we’re still Terps,” Bin said.