Sunday, September 5, 2010

Back in Stride

There is a time coming -- and it will be sooner rather than later -- when the buzz that pervaded the exit of Ludwig last night is going to spread far and wide and tickets to Maryland's games are going to be valuable commodities. Sasho Cirovski has been with the school since 1993 and, as converts, we are of ludicrously recent vintage. This is only our fourth season sitting in the stands at Ludwig; a tiny portion of Cirovski's 18 seasons in charge. Perhaps the teams of the past, those that featured, at different points, Taylor Twellman and Jason Garey and Maurice Edu and Danny Califf and Robbie Rogers and Clarence Goodson, generated similar excitement, but I would doubt it. This year's iteration is tremendously skilled and routinely pulls off plays that generate audible gasps from the crowd.

Last night, twenty Terps players saw the field in a 5 to 0 drubbing that handed Northeastern University its worst loss since losing by six goals to Coastal Carolina to open the 2005 season. Billy Cortes had an incredible game and the senior showed everyone in the stands why he should get an opportunity to play professionally after this year. Cortes can drive powerful shots and passes with either foot. He repeatedly terrorized Northeastern's right flank with surprising speed. Cortes' ability to stop on a dime and restart immediately frustrated his markers and led to an incredible sequence where Cortes beat his man to the touchline, but rather then play the ball off his defender for a corner, Cortes froze the ball, allowed the defender to fly by him and then whipped in a cross that Townsend headed in for his second and Maryland's third goal of the game.

Cortes capped off his wonderful performance by heading home the fifth goal after another display of ridiculous skill by the superfreshman Sunny Jane. This time, Jane attacked on the left and Cortes made a run on the right hand side. Jane weaved around defenders to build space and put in an exceptional cross that Cortes easily capitalized. Jane was introduced with 22 minutes remaining in the first half and thirty minutes in the second half and on both occasions, he made his mark quickly. Jane seems not only to impress fans with his technical ability but also appears to quickly have earned the respect and admiration of his teammates. They feed him the ball at impossible angles and speeds only to see him pull the ball down and attack with stunning pace. His end product does not always meet the quality of his possessive touches, but he does enough to strike fear in the other side. Maryland likes to switch its midfield wings when Jane is in the game and this also appears to be an effective strategy in unsettling the other side.

Matt Kassel is credited with running the team (this praise ought really be given to the captain of the team, red shirt senior Doug Rodkey), but both his possession from the holding midfielder position and his dead ball efforts have been underwhelming in the first two games of the regular season. Kassel's blast following a six-second call on Northeastern's goalie put Maryland up two (and his free kick from just outside the box on Friday night gave the Terps a brief lead over Michigan State), but the team has yet to seriously threaten to score on corners, despite commanding advantages in this statistical category in both games. Kassel is, however, the hard man of the Terps squad and does not allow opponents to build attacks through the middle of the field. Indeed, Kassel seems to have set the tone for the rest of the team and other squads that believe that they can play the Terps physically will find Maryland a difficult team to intimidate.

Alex Lee is a perfect case in point. Despite his horrific injury last season, Lee remains fearless and throws himself after fifty-fifty balls in the air. A brutal shot to Lee's head with 19 minutes to go in the first half led to Alex's departure from the game (London Woodberry, though less of a physical presence, did well in Lee's absence and beautifully set up Jason Herrick's first goal of the season). Lee was writhing in agony on the field, but popped up and ran off the pitch holding his face before a trainer could make it out to check in on him. At the whistle of the first half, Paul Torres took an elbow to the side of his head that drew massive amounts of blood, but at the restart Northeastern's physical play was returned in kind.

Maryland's freshman from Norway, Helge Leikvang, got about a 25 minute run out in the second half with the game well in hand and showed good possession and distribution skills as a defensive midfielder. His free kicks were horrid, but presumably his few kicks were not a fair reflection of his overall skill. Less time was given to Maryland's kiwi import freshman, Gordon Murie and redshirt freshman Jake Pace, when they were subbed in for Ethan White and Greg Young with nine minutes to go, but they easily showed how big Maryland can get at the back. White and Young are not midgets at 6 feet and 5'9", respectively, but a back line of Murie and Pace towers over them at 6'5" and 6'2". The attacking trio of junior Casey Townsend, redshirt senior Jason Herrick, and junior Karou Forbess was spelled by junior Matt Oduaran, sophomore Jordan Cyrus (who now seems to be a forward rather than a defender or midfielder), and sophomore John Stertzer. While Townsend's and Forbess' skills are generally above anyone else on the field, the Oduaran-Cyrus-Sterzer combination does not trail that far behind and they will hopefully continue to improve together as a unit as the season moves on. Cyrus had a wonderful chance on goal that he was unlucky to put above the crossbar and both Oduaran and Cyrus deal well with balls over the top for them to chase down -- another look that Maryland can give opponents.

Scouts should flock to Ludwig if only to get a glimpse of the consistently exceptional performances displayed by both Casey Townsend and Ethan White. Both will have a future in the professional ranks and both show clear improvement over last season.

Only six players on the Terps squad were kept off the pitch last night -- senior keeper Will Swaim ("Will's got skills!"), sophomores Widner Saint Cyr and Gonzalo Frechilla, and freshmen Marquez Fernandez, Patrick Mullins, and Jereme Raley. Given their respective pedigrees it is stunning that they are on the bench, but there wasn't anyone of the twenty that did play that failed to show that they belonged on the field.

In two games, there have been three moments of pure magic from Maryland. The first from Friday -- Forbess' side volley equalizer -- was matched by Cortes' pull back and cross to Townsend last night. The third moment came on a meaningless play in the middle of the field towards the end of the game when Sunny Jane pulled down a pass and spun around the ball to the delight of the crowd. Cirovski's Terps are must see soccer and I am grateful to have the opportunity to watch them on a regular basis.

Also quick applause for Irishman Brian Ainscough, Northeastern's head coach, who reacted to the six-second call on Oliver Blum with furious protests and a hysterical count of "ONE! TWO! THREE! FOUR! FIVE! SEVEN!" the first time MacMath picked up the ball after the call.

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