Sasho Cirovski pulled into his parking space near the student entrance to Ludwig Field late Friday afternoon and was cheered.
He ran over to thank supporters in the Crew a few hours later and was lauded some more.
Everything in between unfolded perfectly as well, as the Maryland soccer coach guided his team to a 4-2 victory. He still had to race across campus to Comcast Center to appear at Midnight Madness, and still had a flight to catch Saturday morning for his induction into the Windsor/Essex County Sports Hall of Fame back in Ontario.
Still, there was reason to linger as the final hours of his 49th birthday slipped away. A record 7,957 crammed into Ludwig, the latest testament to the remarkable work Cirovski’s logged in College Park. A decade ago, that would have doubled the program’s previous record attendance. It also would have accounted for more than half of a season’s attendance.
At 39, with one final four to his name but marginal local attention, was this a realistic long-term outcome?
“You know me. I was crazy enough to think this was possible probably even earlier,” Cirovski said. “I envisioned all of this. I saw this happening. We still have to solve the Tuesday puzzle to get people here on Tuesdays. I’m still not sure how to do that. But Fridays and Saturdays are solved.”
Are they ever.
The product helps, of course. Maryland proudly displays goal posts from its 2005 and 2008 national title teams. Three years after their last championship, the No. 3 Terrapins (13-1-1, 4-1) have reached mid-October atop the table in the ACC while drawing an average crowd of 4,223 this season.
All this in a facility retrofitted from a field inside a track to a raucous home field tightly enclosed on three sides.
“I just want a permanent stadium at some point because we deserve it, really,” Cirovski said. “But this was great. The tribute our students paid to our team is priceless. It’s one of those things that makes you warm inside because it’s unusual. There’s not too many Olympic sports that have this type of following.”
Certainly not in the Baltimore-Washington corridor. Excluding football and men’s basketball, only three other Division I programs in any sport in the area outdrew the Terps’ soccer program on average during the 2010-11 school year: Maryland women’s basketball, Navy men’s lacrosse and Maryland men’s lacrosse.
And Cirovski’s team is moving up. Its average crowd this season is larger than either of the lacrosse teams on the list. Either way, the Terps attracted larger typical crowds than basketball programs at American, George Washington and Navy, among others:
LARGEST AVERAGE HOME CROWD IN 2010-11 SCHOOL YEAR BY A DIVISION I TEAM, BALTIMORE/WASHINGTON CORRIDOR
|1. Maryland||Football||39,168 |
|3. Maryland||Men’s basketball||14,910|
|4. Georgetown||Men’s basketball||12,675|
|6. George Mason||Men’s basketball||5,896|
|7. Morgan State||Football||5,853|
|8. Maryland||Women’s basketball ||5,161|
|10. Navy||Men’s lacrosse||3,558|
|11. Maryland||Men’s lacrosse||3,148|
|12. Maryland||Men’s soccer||2,940|
|13. Johns Hopkins ||Men’s lacrosse||2,708|
|15. Navy||Men’s basketball||2,397|
|16. Morgan State||Men’s basketball||2,094|
|17. Towson||Men’s lacrosse||1,965|
|18. American||Men’s basketball||1,929|
|19. George Washington ||Men’s basketball||1,788|
|20. Howard||Men’s basketball||1,702|
Tapping into the area and creating a vibrant soccer atmosphere was always one of Cirovski’s goals. But it would be unwise to look past Friday’s other plot: The Terps collecting yet another victory.
Maryland opened the season in the top five, but lost so much from a year earlier. Four of the six players with at least 10 points were gone. So was defender Ethan White and keeper Zac MacMath. Maybe the Terps would wind up in the top five, but there was ample reason to wonder if they belonged there in August.
So much for that. Casey Townsend has 12 goals, John Stertzer 11. Patrick Mullins snapped a month-long scoring drought Friday, and quicksilver midfielder Sunny Jane scored for the first time all year against the Blue Devils. (He also drew a red card and will miss week’s trip to No. 2 North Carolina).
Then there’s a defense that yielded 12 goals in 15 games and stifled Duke’s Andrew Wengeru, the ACC’s leading scorer, throughout Friday’s match.
“I felt like we were going to go through more growing pains, maybe, to become more hardened and then get really good in the playoffs,” Cirovski said. “I think we had growing pains through some of the matches this year through victories. The Virginia game [a 2-1 loss on Oct. 7] was a little bit of a rekindling of humility to our play. I think we’ve got a shot. I think we’re pretty good. There’s a lot of good teams this year in college soccer and I think we’re among elite and on a given day I think we can beat anybody.”
On this particular night, the Terps were more than Duke could handle. Nearly 8,000 saw it – probably not a much smaller gathering than the group assembled to see the introduction of the school’s basketball teams a few hours later.
It’s the latest step of a formidable construction project into which Cirovski’s invested a third of his life, and Friday was further fulfillment for a man who never has wasted time dreaming small, a trait unlikely to mellow with age.
“This was a great birthday present,” Cirovski said. “I couldn’t imagine a better one.”