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Goal! Two Terps Head to World Cup

Coach Cirovski to Cheer on Former Players in Brazil

By David Kohn

This month, several billion soccer fans around the world will be stationed in front of TVs and computers to watch 32 teams vie for the World Cup. Among those billions will be one Sasho Cirovski, coach of Maryland’s men’s team. He’ll be watching not just because he loves the sport, but because two of his former players are on the U.S. team.

With Graham Zusi and Omar Gonzalez making the 23-man roster headed to Brazil in June, Terps are overrepresented on the squad. (Two other former UMD players, Clarence Goodson and Maurice Edu, were among the final cuts.)

Since arriving on campus 21 years ago, Cirovski has built Maryland’s team into one of the titans of college soccer. It routinely ranks among the nation’s top contenders, won national championships in 2005 and 2008, and last year lost a close game in the finals to Notre Dame.

During Cirovski’s tenure, 49 Terps have played in Major League Soccer (MLS), including 20 currently, and eight have played overseas. Cirovski expects this level of excellence from players; Zusi says this culture was crucial for his development.

“I’m so grateful for my time at Maryland,” says Zusi, who played for the Terps from 2005–07. “Sasho provides such a professional atmosphere.

“He demands excellence. He can be a tough guy, but this is a very detail-oriented sport. You need that to make it, and he puts that into you.”

Cirovski, who as a boy immigrated with his family to Canada from a village in Macedonia, is passionate about his work. He was coaching youth teams even as a college player, and he recruits players from coast to coast.

“Sasho has done an incredible job of creating an environment that attracts the best players,” says Rob Vartughian, a coach for the Philadelphia Union, who worked with Cirovski for seven years at Maryland. “He has an amazing ability to get players to buy in. He gets his older guys to understand it, and they help teach the younger guys.”

Cirovski is flying to Brazil to see a few of the World Cup matches. His heart and his head will be at odds: He’s rooting hard for his former players, but he admits that he’s picking Brazil to win it all.

This could be a good year for the U.S.; the team has looked strong in recent tune-up matches. But in the opening round, it plays three dangerous teams: Ghana, Portugal (which has perhaps the world’s best player, Cristiano Ronaldo) and Germany (one of the favorites to win the whole thing).

“We are in a tough group. But really, every group is tough,” says Zusi, who plays midfield for Sporting Kansas City, winner of the 2013 MLS championship. “We can compete with any team in the world.”

Zusi has loved the World Cup since he was a kid in Florida. When he was 8, he was on the field as part of the opening ceremony for the 1994 World Cup, which took place in Orlando and other American cities. “For me, every four years can’t come soon enough,” says Zusi, who is expected to be a key scoring threat for the U.S. “It’s the biggest sports event in the world.”

Gonzalez, a Terp in 2006 and 2007, had his own 1994 World Cup moment. He grew up in Dallas, and that year his parents took him to the Cotton Bowl to see a game. He was all of 6, but he told his mother that one day he’d be out there himself. A 6-foot-5-inch defender who plays for the Los Angeles Galaxy in the MLS, he gets a bit touchy when asked if he’s awed to be facing such famous players as Ronaldo: “I’m not going there for the experience. I’m going there to win. I can think about the experience when I’m old.”

Maryland Today is produced by the Office of Strategic Communications for the University of Maryland community weekdays during the academic year, except for university holidays.