Coach Sasho Cirovski and players A.J. Delagarza and Graham Zusi address the media on December 16, 2008. Al Santos/DC Sports Box
The Maryland men's soccer team recently held a media event to discuss the National Championship season, to talk about the past, present, and future of the team, and, as a bit of an afterthought, to show off the new entry in their trophy case. Present were head coach Sasho Cirovski and stand-out seniors Graham Zusi, who scored the game-winning (and only) goals in the last two contests en route to the championship, and A.J. Delagarza.
The Maryland Terrapins' 2008 NCAA Men's Soccer Championship Trophy. Al Santos/DC Sports Box
The conversation started with some reflection over the championship run. Both the coach and the players exuded a certain level of weary contentedness, probably because the days of celebration, coupled with a stiff travel schedule and final exams, conspired to attenuate their elation at this latest accomplishment. All three were there last time, in 2005, when the Terps did the same thing. This time around, however, the coach had an inkling all season long that this might be where they would end up. He said at the beginning of the season that this team "had the ability to be the last team standing if we stay healthy."
Like most head coaches, Cirovski had to be concerned that a suite of personality differences might lead to clashes, or that not everyone would get the minutes they thought they deserved and create problems for the team as a result. In the end, however, this team held together well, everyone understood their role, and this spirit of camaraderie carried them to the championship. Cirovski reported that it was "an amazing group of players to coach this year" and that there were "no cancers amongst players not getting enough minutes."
Maryland senior forward #11 Graham Zusi discusses his future at a media event on December 16, 2008. Al Santos/DC Sports Box
Both Delagarza and Zusi played very limited roles in their freshman year campaign for a trophy, so this year's win was a much bigger ordeal for them. Quipped Delagarza, "It was the greatest thing I've ever accomplished." Perhaps they have more in store for them — Zusi and Delagarza were the only Terrapins invited to the Initial Participants List of the Major League Soccer Player Combine to be held January 9-13 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Other Terps could be added to the list as Division I alternates are added in the coming weeks.
Zusi and Delagarza are graduating seniors, so if they find success in the majors, it won't be at the expense of the Terrapins. There are other avenues into professional soccer, however, and there may be temptations for other players, particularly some of the talented underclassmen, to bolt. Coach Cirovski isn't yet ready to give voice to any concerns he may have about roster depletion, however: "I'm not ready to say anything about young players considering making the jump."
The Maryland Terrapins men's soccer team host a post-championship media conference on December 16, 2008. Al Santos/DC Sports Box
He was ready, however, to say a little bit about the prospects of the two seniors he brought to the meeting with him. Particularly after Delagarza reflected some of the widely-held concern about his professional promise that he is undersized, Cirovski said, "A.J. would be on any team I would coach at any level." Cirovski also noted how Zusi had improved over the course of the year and really seemed to solidify in his role at the end, "The last eight games, I'm not sure there's a better player in the country."
Speaking of "making the jump," the subject also came up about possible MLS coaching vacancies that Cirovski might be tempted to fill. The coach acknowledged that he had been very successful at Maryland and was very proud to have won the two championships in the last few years. He was also clear, however, that his list of personal goals at Maryland was not completely checked off. He summarized very succinctly, "I love it here." Surely the Terrapins family is hoping these kind words are a harbinger of years of coaching stability to come.
Below we have a photo gallery of our best shots of the men's soccer team from the 2008 season.