- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 19, 2003

Sasho Cirovski likes what he has built.

Everywhere he turns, the Maryland men’s soccer coach sees something exciting. His Terrapins, who play D.C. United in an exhibition tonight at 7:30 in College Park, are ranked No.1 by College Soccer News and No.2 by the National Soccer Coaches Association of America entering the season. The team returns all 11 starters and all but one reserve from last season’s final four team. End zone seats have been installed at Ludwig Field, the team’s home pitch, to make the facility cozier for fans and players.

Keeper Noah Palmer enters his third season as a starter. The defense, which featured three new starters last season, should be more cohesive this year. Senior Scott Buete anchors a rugged but talented midfield.

Yet the Terps’ attack will be the team’s most critical component. Forwards Domenic Mediate, Nino Marcantonio and Abe Thompson and midfielder Sumed Ibrahim are among the sport’s most dangerous players, but rarely were all of them playing well at the same time last season. Now that they’re accustomed to each other’s style of play, the Terps may click more frequently this fall.

“Last season we had five or six goal scorers on our team that are great attacking players,” Thompson said. “This season we’ll be on the same page more than ever. It’s going to make all of us more dangerous.”

With all those weapons, Maryland won’t sneak up on anyone this season. The Terps went 20-5 a year ago, but hovered around No.10 in the rankings before winning the ACC tournament and advancing to the national semifinals. The experience has brought new expectations to a program that hadn’t advanced to the round of 16 in the NCAA tournament in four seasons.

Coming off the euphoria of a final four trip is not new to Cirovski. A year after his young team made a surprising run to the national semifinals in 1998, Maryland rose to No.1 early in the season.

However, the Terps were bounced from the NCAA tournament in the first round by St. John’s. Within two months, stars Dan Califf and Taylor Twellman had bolted for professional careers.

“In that particular year we had a number of players who were looking at their own personal careers and looked a little beyond the college season and looked at where they were going to go whether they were underclassmen or seniors,” said Cirovski, whose team has seven seniors this season. “This year, the main goal are that these guys aren’t thinking about personal future until the season’s over.”

The surroundings should help keep the Terps’ minds on this year. Inspired by an overflow crowd that packed temporary bleachers behind one goal and sat atop snowbanks on the sideline during Maryland’s 1-0 NCAA quarterfinal defeat of Connecticut last December, Cirovski raised money to bring fans closer to the game and turn track-ringed Ludwig into a more intimate soccer setting. The result are seats behind both goals and signs celebrating the program’s history surrounding the field.

Maryland players got their first look at the revamped facility this week and came away impressed and eager for their home opener against defending national champ UCLA on Sept.5.

“I didn’t picture it like this,” Buete said. “This is a perfect soccer environment. It just looks like a real soccer stadium. Everyone’s close in and that’s the type of atmosphere you want to play in.”

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