Maryland men’s soccer coach Sasho Cirovski likes playing teams that are at the top of collegiate soccer. He uses a tough opening slate of opponents to challenge and evaluate his team.

“We like playing top teams. These are teams that all have a very good opportunity to play in the NCAA tournament this year,” the coach said. “I like to see what errors we have to get better at, and get stronger at. This is more of what we traditionally like to do.”

The Terps kicked off this season’s quest for a 23rd consecutive appearance in the NCAA tournament against three ranked squads and a team receiving votes in the United Soccer Coaches top-25 poll.

They played three ranked teams in the opening five games of last season’s schedule, going 2-1. More of the same occurred two seasons ago as Maryland faced two nationally ranked opponents, including then-No. 1 Georgetown.

Maryland battled Missouri State to begin the 2023 season. The Bears were on the cusp of the national rankings at the start of the season and have risen to No. 13 in the most recent poll. The defending Missouri Valley Conference tournament champions boast one of the deepest teams in the country.

[Sign up for our weekly sports newsletter, The Diamondback Sports Digest]

The Bears started 10 upperclassmen against Maryland — seven were seniors. Cirovski praised Missouri State, calling them a very good team with loads of experience and quality.

It was a difficult opening night for the Terps. The Bears have given up just one goal this season. They kicked off the stingy defensive performances by limiting the Terps to just two shots in 1-0 Maryland loss.

After the defeat, Maryland stared down the barrel of three then-ranked teams — No. 10 UNC Greensboro, No. 18 Wake Forest and No. 15 Virginia. But the daunting prospect of playing elite talent didn’t frighten the Terps.

“From a player’s perspective, these are the kinds of games you want to play, and you want to play against the best teams,” forward Stefan Copetti said before Maryland’s matchup against the Spartans. “If we want to make a run in the NCAA tournament, these are the kind of caliber teams we’re going to be playing against.”

Copetti and his teammates answered the call. The Terps outshot the Spartans in a 2-0 victory where Maryland scored its first goals and kept its first clean sheet of the year.

[Virginia’s speedy attack exploited Maryland men’s soccer’s defense]

The Demon Deacons and Cavaliers, two old ACC rivals, came next for Maryland.

Wake Forest entered this season after conceding just 20 goals in 20 games and scoring 2.1 goals per game last year. Virginia also gave up 20 goals a season ago and had a slightly lower 1.79 goals per game average.

Maryland notched a scoreless draw against Wake Forest and lost for the second time in its opening four games against Virginia.

The Terps hope this tough run of games will prepare them to defend their Big Ten regular season title. Big Ten play commences Thursday. Even after subpar start-of-season results, optimism remains still high for Maryland.

“Having an early experience against these guys, and seeing how we match up and things like that, we obviously will improve,” Copetti said. “We are going to improve later on in the year.”