Maryland men’s soccer’s 2023 season was historic for the wrong reasons.
The Terps’ roster consisted of a plethora of new faces, including 10 freshmen and a transfer. Coach Sasho Cirovski said before the season that his side may take time to adjust to playing together before finding success.
The defending Big Ten regular season champions were picked by the conference’s head coaches as favorites to win the Big Ten before the season kicked off.
Instead, Maryland finished winless in conference play for the first time since moving to the Big Ten and missed out on the conference tournament after a ninth-place finish in the league table.
Maryland’s run of 22-straight NCAA tournament appearances, the second-longest active streak in the country, is set to end.
The Terps’ struggles began in the attacking third. The departures of Joshua Bolma and Malcolm Johnston left voids in the Terps’ offense that needed to be filled by incoming freshmen Kimani Stewart-Baynes and Luke van Heukelum.
But the highly-touted newcomers couldn’t replace the goal production of the attackers who left the program.
Maryland’s goal tally dwindled as new players entered the lineup. The Terps averaged nearly two goals per game a season ago. In 2023, that number dropped to 1.33 goals per game.
Both freshmen did find their form toward the back end of the campaign. Stewart-Baynes racked up two goals and four assists over Maryland’s final five contests. van Heukelum contributed three goals and five assists in the same stretch. But only one goal and two assists from the pair in that time frame came against Big Ten opponents.
“We’ve started two or three freshmen almost every game in the attacking part of the field,” Cirovski said. “It just takes time.”
Stefan Copetti, Max Riley and Colin Griffith were three returners expected to further fill the production void for the Terps. They didn’t get the job done either.
Griffith only appeared in nine matches, missing time with an injury — he didn’t score a goal all season. Copetti and Riley combined for just three goals in Big Ten play compared to five last year.
The Terps’ offensive struggles limited their success in conference play all year. Maryland’s goal total went from 39 goals in 2022 to just 20 this year. In 2023, only seven of those came in the Terps’ eight Big Ten matches.
“We have always fought, come up short on a few plays, and we’ve had a remarkable run of bad luck this year,” Cirovski said.
Maryland’s misfortunes extended across its entire lineup and cost the Terps crucial points in conference play.
The back four possessed the most experience on the roster. Kento Abe saw playing time in each of his first three years at Maryland and Luca Costabile was a mainstay in the starting lineup last season. Center backs William Kulvik and Bjarne Thiesen teamed up in the heart of the defense, with Kulvik playing a majority of last season and Thiesen transferring to the Terps after three years at West Virginia.
But even with the experience headlining its defense, Maryland wasn’t sound in defending its goal.
All three rostered goalkeepers — Jamie Lowell, Mikah Seger and Saxon Wolcott — saw the pitch at some point this year.
Mistakes started in the Terps’ conference opener, with a Costabile miscue gifting Michigan a goal. That denied Maryland a win in a match that ended at a 2-2 draw.
Errors from each goalkeeper — Seger against Penn State, Lowell against Wisconsin and Wolcott against Ohio State — also hurt a Maryland team trying to secure vital conference wins. The points Maryland dropped in each game aided its last-place Big Ten finish.
“This is soccer, it’s a cruel game,” Cirovski said. “You’ve got to make plays to win games.”
Maryland’s high preseason expectations quickly dissipated. But Cirovski said his team’s youth has grown amid a season of low points. It’s up to those same players to get Maryland men’s soccer back to prominence next season.
“We’ll be back next year,” Riley said. “Don’t forget that.”