As the final whistle blew in Maryland men’s soccer’s 2-1 win over Northwestern on Saturday, coach Sasho Cirovski didn’t celebrate.
Instead, he walked straight toward the Northwestern bench and embraced Wildcats’ coach Tim Lenahan.
Lenahan had just coached his final regular-season home game of his 20 years at Northwestern, in which he revived the dormant program, tallying nine NCAA tournament appearances so far and winning two Big Ten regular-season titles, all while playing in one of college soccer’s most competitive conferences.
And though Saturday was a big result for Cirovski’s team — its fourth victory in a row — it was equally about paying homage to a friend.
“There was a bit of a melancholy feeling throughout the game and leading up to the game,” Cirovski said.
Lenahan had been a regular adversary for Cirovski in the six seasons since Maryland joined the Big Ten. Though Maryland leads the all-time series, 5-3 after yesterday’s result, Lenahan’s teams have always been tough to beat.
There were performances such as last season’s, in which Northwestern beat the Terps 3-1 in College Park. It was a vintage Lenahan game, with the Wildcats soaking up pressure, allowing the home side only four shots on target.
And all three of Northwestern’s goals were smoothly executed counterattacks, pouring forward on the break after defending solidly.
Yesterday’s setup was no different. Though the Terps controlled the ball, they struggled to find a rhythm as Northwestern lined up in a classically physical style, designed to knock Maryland off its game.
“They just want to win, and they’ll do it any way possible,” midfielder Malcolm Johnston said.
This time, the Terps left Evanston, Illinois, with three points, running out deserved winners. But in the final eight minutes, with just one goal separating the two teams, the game was truly in the balance — and Northwestern could have nabbed one in the end had it not been for a sturdy defensive performance from Maryland.
For Cirovski, though, Lenahan is more than the physical play of his teams. When Maryland switched from the ACC, Lenahan was the first to call, welcoming him to the conference. He’s been a good friend throughout the years, Cirovski said, and a strong advocate for the 21st Century Model.
The 21st Century Model is a movement spearheaded by Cirovski and other coaches, who are looking to spread out the collegiate soccer season so that it spans both the fall and spring semesters instead of having the entire campaign crammed into a 12-week period.
“He was my number one ally in getting the Big Ten to rally behind the 21st Century Model,” Cirovski said.
There’s also Lenahan the friend, the big personality who fosters a culture of friendship and togetherness at the program he helped revive. For practice on Friday, Lenahan dressed up as sitcom character Ted Lasso and took training in a mustache and visor.
It’s that kind of attitude Cirovski will remember him for.
“Tim’s the only guy that can pull it off and call it soccer,” Cirovski said.
On Saturday, likely for the last time, Lenahan and Cirovski faced off on the sidelines. In a way, it’s the end of an era.
However, it’s not the end for the two coaches — at least not off the pitch.
“I’m going to miss him, but our relationship will continue,” Cirovski said. “It’ll just maybe be a little bit more on the golf course in the future.”