Monday, September 3, 2012

Let's Goooooooo Maryland

Three days, three trips to campus, four games.  Three Terrapin wins, one tie.

Most of the ink will be spilled bemoaning low attendance at Byrd and a poor performance by the football team against an FCS team.  There is certainly justification for a negative takeaway from the weekend (it was shocking to watch) but Maryland's other football teams put in performances that were just as jaw-dropping for positive reasons.

As fans, the recurring theme of the weekend was the incredible support garnered by the various teams from within the athletics program.  Among the 6,562 people in Ludwig Friday night was Nick Faust and Pe'shon Howard, as the men's basketball team was well-represented.  My daughter and I ran into Faust again Saturday at the football game.  Tonight at the men's soccer game against Cal, I was bracketed in the stands by Coach Brenda Frese and her family on one side and Domenica Hodak and Hayley Brock on the other.  (Much respect to Coach Frese's boys, who responded to one of the Crew's many "sucks" chants by trying to start positive chants of their own.  I remain unimpressed by the Crew who cracked up the stadium with a rousing rendition of Katy Perry's "California Gurls," but wiped out that witticism in a late game chant with the inclusion of the homophobic slur of choice for the student body's biggest tools.  You can't put an umbrella up in the stands, but no worries about a group of students calling an opposing player a f&**%t).  At the women's soccer game against Towson a few hours earlier, President Loh sat behind Jonathan Morgan for his first official home game as head coach.

Little bit different story for the student body.  ESPN3 likely showed the backs of lots of Maryland students leaving Ludwig in the second half of the match against UCLA Saturday night and leaving Byrd on Sunday for the dire game against William & Mary.

It was worth staying for both.

It isn't exactly easy to be optimistic about the football team but after one game it is already clear that, yes, Stefon Diggs is that good.  And, yes, the offense is really, really bad... but from a purely selfish standpoint, the inability of the offense to move the ball or avoid turnovers meant that the game stayed close and tense until the last minute, resulting in my eldest being around for the final whistle of a football game for the first time.  Still, it is going to be a painful season.

Not so for the soccer teams.  Although Maryland's record got its first blemish after failing to defeat a very good UCLA squad, the second half of that match was thrilling.  With Keith Cardona in goal, Taylor Kemp and Mikey Ambrose at fullback, London Woodberry and Dakota Edwards at center half, Helge Leikvang and Dan Metzger cleaning up the midfield, John Stertzer directing the offense, and Patrick Mullins as the target man up top, this is a familiar, traditional Maryland powerhouse men's soccer squad.  The type of squad that once featured three of the twenty-five called into the USMNT for the World Cup Qualifiers against Jamaica (Maurice Edu, Clarence Goodson, and Graham Zusi), one of Costa Rica's internationals (Rodney Wallace), three of the professional soccer players on hand at the game against Cal tonight (Zac MacMath, Matt Kassel, and Jeremy Hall), and two of the starters for Chivas USA who got blistered tonight by San Jose (Danny Califf and Casey Townsend). 

But this year's version of Cirovski's Brigade is decidedly different because of what is on offer from Sunny Jane, Schillo Tshuma, Mikias Eticha, Widner Saint Cyr, Alex Shinsky, and Christiano Francois.  These six players are remarkable on the ball and can, with varying degrees of reliability, launch breathtaking runs with only a sliver of space.

UCLA did very well bottling up release valves for these runs, but Maryland still managed 22 shots to UCLA's 8.  Cal-Berkeley, picked by Pac-12's coaches to finish second behind UCLA in the conference this season, did not do well in that regard.  While the 22 shots against UCLA resulted in 2 goals, 20 shots against Cal tonight resulted in 6 goals.

No Taylor Kemp, no Helge Leikvang tonight (replaced in the starting lineup by Widner Saint Cyr and Mikias Eticha, respectively), no problem.  In driving, pouring rain and terrible conditions, kids all around the stadium begged their parents to stay a little longer.  Mostly to watch Maryland's number 10.

In three games -- against pretty good opposition in Louisville, UCLA, and Cal -- Maryland has scored eleven goals.  They are electrifying.  The attacks in the second half of tonight's game (when five of the eleven team goals were scored), Maryland's offense was relentless as they toyed with a defense that was brutally overrun.

Maryland's first road game of the season is against another powerhouse, the #13 (NCSAA)/ #10 (Soccer America) Boston College Eagles, who need to rebound after a disappointing showing against Boston University Monday.  With another good showing Friday night, the foundations for a special season will be laid.

Separately, congratulations to Jonathan Morgan on the women's emphatic 5-0 win this afternoon against Towson.  Hayley Brock is terrific, but the story of the match was Olivia Wagner's brace.  Both were long-range blasts; the first one was stunning.  With several freshmen playing a major role on the squad this season, the women are likely to be inconsistent.  Today's match gave supporters a little taste of how good they can be.

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