ANNAPOLIS - Clarence Goodson feels an overwhelming sense of pride every time he wears the American crest over his heart as a member of the U.S. men’s national soccer team.
For the Alexandria, Va., native, also being able to represent his alma mater, the University of Maryland, alongside three other former Terps on the U.S. national team “is an added plus.”
Goodson, Maurice Edu, Graham Zusi and Omar Gonzalez have all represented the United States in International competitions, most recently during this year’s World Cup Qualifying matches against Honduras, Costa Rica and Mexico. Only Notre Dame with two, and UCLA with three, have had more than one player on the team during this stretch.
The four Terps have reached the top tier of U.S. soccer, they said, because of the intense program at Maryland, and the driven head coach, Sasho Cirovski, which together prepared them for professional careers.
“As you get older, every coach you have really has a different role they play, and Sasho’s (role) was that he really taught me the discipline of the game and the winning mentality,” Zusi said.
Zusi, a midfielder for Sporting Kansas City in Major League Soccer, played for Cirovski from 2005 to 2008 and won two NCAA Championships. He said his college coach has a bigger influence in his players’ lives than he probably realizes.
“He’s created a winning tradition, (at Maryland)” Zusi said.
When Cirovski arrived in 1993, Maryland was not the soccer powerhouse it is today. The former University of Hartford coach brought with him a formula to transform the Terrapins from a team that consistently missed the NCAA Division I Tournament into regular title contenders.
“Players know this is a very intense program,” Cirovski said. “And they come to Maryland because they want a great education and want to win national championships, but they also want to have professional careers and have a chance to play in the World Cup.”
Under Cirovski, Maryland has had winning records in all but one season. The team has advanced to the NCAA Semifinals five times, won five ACC Tournament championships and lifted two National Championship trophies.
“I think we do a good job of preparing (the players) mentally, physically, technically and tactically,” Cirovski said. “Every game, every semester and every year there’s a continual push to get better.”
Before the current Terps’ rise to the national team, other alumni had previously donned the red, white and blue uniform.
Taylor Twellman, a television analyst on ESPN’s soccer broadcasts, played two seasons at Maryland in the late 1990s before going on to score six goals in 30 appearances for the U.S.
Desmond Armstrong, Danny Califf, Leo Cullen, Robbie Rogers and Chris Seitz are also on the list of Maryland Terrapins to make the national team.
“We have already seen great examples of what it takes to be a part of the highest level, and now I‘m pointing to these guys (Goodson, Edu, Zusi and Gonzalez) to the guys in our locker room,” Cirovski said.
Cirovski has coached 47 players who have played in MLS, and others -- like Goodson and Edu -- who have competed overseas.
Three seniors from this past season’s NCAA Division I semifinal team have already embarked on MLS careers.
Midfielder John Stertzer was drafted by Real Salt Lake while defender Taylor Kemp stayed in the area and joined D.C. United. Defender London Woodberry was not drafted and instead signed a contract with FC Dallas.
From video sessions to nutrition to top-class training facilities, Cirovski and his staff pride themselves on providing a place for players to train and perform at the highest level.
Cirovski does not simply instill the mentality of champions in his players. A great deal of his teams’ accomplishments are linked to his training methods that closely resemble professional teams.
The players said the team often scrimmaged against professional teams, such as D.C. United, which the current team did in March.
“Sasho was always trying to match us up with professionals to see how we would do,” said Gonzalez, the reigning MLS Cup Most Valuable Player who is now in his fifth season with the L.A. Galaxy. “I thought it was great for guys’ confidence.”
He said what made the program one of the best in the country was the high level of organization and structure. The team had brief but intense practices each day, and frequently spent time in the weight room lifting to prevent injuries.
“We were always a step ahead at Maryland,” Gonzalez said. “That’s why we were such a good team.”
All four remember the determination to win from their coach and teammates, and added that the passionate fans that went to the games played a huge role in creating an ideal place to play.
“My class was the one to experience the creation of The Crew,” said Goodson, who was a senior in 2003 when the student supporters known as The Crew was founded.
Goodson played three seasons at the University of Maryland in the early 2000s and now plays in Denmark for Brøndby IF.
“They certainly changed the dynamic of college soccer,” Goodson said, of The Crew.
Gonzalez recalled his first day playing at Ludwig Field, and said the group was just as he remembered it from his recruiting visit -- loud, the entire game.
“I love The Crew. I love hearing their chants and the funny things they say,” said Gonzalez, who likened their intensity and loyalty to the U.S. fans who travel across the world chanting team songs, painting their faces, waving flags and scarves, and tailgating.
The overall feeling of former players is that they have been fortunate to have attended a school, and played for a coach, as decorated and devoted to soccer as Maryland.
“You look at how many of his guys go on to play at the next level and not just play but succeed and do well,” Zusi said. “It’s really a testament to the atmosphere, the character and mindset that he instills in his players.”
Edu -- who plays for Stoke City Football Club in the English Premier League and is currently on loan to Turkish team Bursaspor -- believes Maryland’s success begins during the scouting and recruiting process.
“To succeed, it takes more than just talent,” Edu said. “You have to have the right mentality as well.”
“Sasho’s been able to recruit the right kind of players and place them in an environment where he can help them grow and pursue their dreams of playing at the next level,” Edu said.
Three games into the qualifying stage for the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, the U.S. currently holds a 1-1-1 record and is in third place in CONCACAF, the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football.
In order to clinch a spot in the 32-team tournament in 2014, a team in CONCACAF must finish among the top three in the qualifying round. The fourth-place team will have a chance to qualify via an intercontinental playoff game against New Zealand.
Gonzalez has started and played in each of the three World Cup Qualifying games this year, while Edu and Zusi have either started or were substitutes in all three. Goodson was summoned for the two most recent matches, one of which he started.
Goodson and Edu were both featured on the 23-man squad that represented the United States during the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, and are looking to also be included this time around. Zusi and Gonzalez have made 10 and six appearances for the U.S. men’s national team, respectively.
“We appreciate how special it is that four of us from one university are playing on the same team nationally,” said Zusi, adding that playing on the same field as two of his former college teammates, Edu and Gonzalez, again is a “neat feeling.”
Cirovski said another one of his former athletes at Maryland -- A.J. DeLaGarza of the L.A. Galaxy -- has a chance of breaking into the squad between now and June 2014.
Regardless of what the final roster looks like, Cirovski is already planning a trip with his family for next summer’s tournament.
“I’m hoping we see a number of Terps in Brazil,” Cirovski said.
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