Maryland men’s soccer is used to winning. The Terps surpassed 10 wins last year for the 28th consecutive full season and made the NCAA tournament for the 22nd straight season.
All of that success has come under head coach Sasho Cirovski.
The Terps are ranked No. 14 in the preseason coaches poll and were picked to win the Big Ten in the conference’s preseason poll. Now, the college soccer world has heaped lofty expectations on one of the sport’s premier programs. Cirovski, who is entering his 31st season in College Park, will have to deliver on these expectations with a lineup of mostly new faces.
“We have a lot of newcomers to work into a lineup, of which 10 are incoming freshmen,” he said. “We’re challenging ourselves.”
The Terps lost three players from last year‘s back line in goalie Niklas Neumann and defenders Chris Rindov and Nick Richardson all left the program. Rindov, most notably, signed with Major League Soccer’s Sporting Kansas City.
The Terps “lost a lot of quality” from last season, Cirovski said, especially in production in minutes and goals.
“I think we’re a team that will be a little bit of a work in progress,” he said.
But the Terps feel like they’ve got worthy replacements.
Bjarne Thiesen, a transfer from West Virginia, will look to slot into Rindov’s former role. Thiesen started all 18 games and completed a full 90 minutes in 15 contests for the Mountaineers last fall, contributing to six clean sheets in the process.
Thiesen was named to the United Soccer Coaches All-Southeast Region Second Team and the All-Sun Belt Second Team last season. This preseason, he was also named to the Big Ten Players to Watch list.
Cirovski said Thiesen was a “huge” addition for the Terps ahead of this season. Having a player at Thiesen’s pedigree, experience and quality will be crucial to the team’s success this year, he said.
“He’s a terrific player and he’s a very mature young man,” Cirovski said. “We’re delighted that he’s here.”
Two players will vie for Neumann’s spot in goal. Senior Jamie Lowell will start the season opener, but will split playing time with sophomore Mikah Seger early in the season, Cirovski said. Lowell appeared in six games last season, posting 18 saves and conceding six goals, while Seger did not see any action.
Saxon Wolcott, a freshman who enrolled early last spring, has also impressed during preseason. Maryland is very confident in all three of their goalkeeping options heading into this season, Cirovski said.
On the other end of the pitch, Maryland also lost forward Joshua Bolma, who signed with the MLS’ New England Revolution. Three returning players will look to slot in. Stefan Copetti, Colin Griffith and Max Riley will all return after seeing time up top last year.
Copetti, who also made the Big Ten Players to Watch list, scored six goals last season while Griffith and Riley combined for four.
The Terps will immediately face challenges. After Thursday’s opener against Missouri State, Maryland will square off against four ranked teams in a row: UNC Greensboro, Wake Forest, Virginia and Georgetown.
That tough start to the schedule means it’s crucial for new and familiar faces on Cirovski’s squad to gel quickly and replace lost talent. If not, August’s high expectations could become a distant memory come November.