CHESTER, Pa. (AP) — In the summer of 1980, an 18-year-old professional soccer hopeful named Sasho Cirovski left his home in Canada to go on trial with Scotland’s Aberdeen F.C.
Getting the opportunity to play with the Aberdeen youth team, Cirovski’s first coach was Bobby Clark, a standout Scottish goalkeeper who, at the time, was transitioning from playing to coaching.
Their initial encounter did not go particularly well.
“My first memory was he didn’t play me the first game,” Cirovski recalled. “And I wasn’t happy.”
Since then, Cirovski and Clark have developed a strong bond that has spread across four decades and two continents, with both men growing into two of the most respected college soccer coaches in America.
On Sunday, the friends will collide in the NCAA men’s soccer championship at PPL Park, with Cirovski’s Maryland team taking on Clark’s Notre Dame squad.
Maryland (17-3-5), seeded fifth in the 48-team NCAA tournament field, beat Virginia 2-1, and third-seeded Notre Dame (16-1-6) shut out New Mexico 2-0 in the semifinals Friday to set up the all-ACC College Cup final.
“He’s a person that’s dear to me who I respect tremendously,” Cirovski said. “We’ve worked together for the good of the game. And, hopefully, Sunday we can work together and provide a good advertisement for college soccer.”
Since arriving at Maryland in 1993, Cirovski has turned the Terrapins into a perennial powerhouse, taking them to eight College Cups in the last 16 years and winning national titles in 2005 and 2008.
Before this season, Notre Dame had never before made it to the College Cup — soccer’s version of the final four — despite continually churning out future MLS players under Clark, who took over as the Fighting Irish’s coach in 2001. Clark previously coached at Dartmouth (1985-1993) and Stanford (1996-2000), guiding the Cardinal to the 1998 national title game, where they lost to Indiana.
After nearly 30 years as a college soccer coach, Clark looks to bring home his first national crown.
“I was here with Stanford and I hope this team can do a better job because we lost the final,” Clark said. “I think it’ll be very nice to take the title home but it’s not going to be easy.”
The championship game will be a showcase for two of college soccer’s elite forwards: Maryland’s Patrick Mullins and Notre Dame’s Harrison Shipp. Along with UCLA midfielder Leo Stolz, both players are finalists for the MAC Hermann Trophy as the nation’s best player. And both put in a show in the semifinals, with Mullins scoring his 17th and 18th goals of the season, and Shipp assisting on both of Notre Dame’s goals.
Maryland also got a big boost from freshman goalkeeper Zack Steffen, who made a tremendous diving save in the final minutes of Friday’s victory over Virginia. Steffen, a Philadelphia Union youth academy product, is aiming to continue Maryland’s tradition of winning national titles with a freshman goalkeeper starting in net. Former Union goalie Chris Seitz and current Union goalie Zac MacMath previously accomplished the feat in 2005 and 2008, respectively.
“There are very few goalkeepers in the country that can do the things he can do,” Cirovski said about Steffen. “When you look at our team, when you have Steffen in goal and Mullins up top, and a bunch of hard-workers in between, you’ve got a chance every game.”
For Notre Dame, Shipp has gotten a lot of help from a loaded roster that includes All-America defender Grant Van De Casteele and striker Patrick Hodan, who has scored in six consecutive games, including twice in the victory over New Mexico.
The Fighting Irish and Terrapins — who played to a 1-1 draw on Oct. 8 — shared the ACC regular-season title with 7-1-3 records. This was Notre Dame’s first year in the ACC and Maryland’s last, as the Terrapins will depart for the Big Ten next season.
“I think it’s the two best teams in the country,” Cirovski said. “I really believe that — sincerely. We’ve played a lot of great teams and I think the two best teams are playing on Sunday.”
(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)