After his team's 4-2 win at Santa Clara in Friday's season opener, Maryland men's soccer coach Sasho Cirovski laid out what he was hoping to gain from the trip.
"Get a win," Cirovski said, "and harden our backline."
It took the Broncos three minutes to score on Maryland's inexperienced defense, but the unit felt it improved as the game progressed and will look to continue to jell in Monday's home opener against Hofstra.
"There was some learning throughout the game," Cirovski said. "We got better defensively … in the second half."
Early, the Terps felt they weren't playing with enough urgency.
Defender Chase Gasper failed to pass out of pressure and lost possession, leading to a free kick that midfielder Eryk Williamson deflected, but the team couldn't clear.
The ball ended up in the back of the net and the Broncos had an early lead against the Terps, who finished the regular season undefeated last year.
"Definitely playing with a new backline had something to do with it," goalkeeper Dayne St. Clair said.
St. Clair entered Friday with two Maryland starts under his belt. He's one of the defense's most experienced players.
Of the four defenders starting in front of him, Miles Stray was the only one who'd started a game on Maryland's backline.
"That connectiveness takes some time," Cirovski said. "Preseason's one thing, regular season's another."
In the opening moments of the season opener, Cirovski said the team didn't adjust to Santa Clara's pace.
That cost the Terps when Gasper failed to advance the ball up the field in the third minute, and nearly hurt them again later when Stray played a sloppy pass to midfielder Jake Rozhansky as a Santa Clara attacker charged toward them.
The Broncos again won possession, but this time their shot was high. Still, Rozhansky tossed his hands in the air in frustration. From there, the defense tightened up.
"We got better. Our spacing was better, our tempo of play was better," Cirovski said. "We cleaned it up a lot more."
For all the inexperience and question marks surrounding the defense, the attack makes up for the uncertainty in returning playmakers, meaning the early deficit was hardly daunting for the Terps. Maryland returns all its starting forwards and midfielders from last season.
After Rozhansky and the offense opened up a 3-1 lead that carried most of the way through a sleepy second half, the Broncos pulled back within a goal in the 78th minute.
That also came off a free kick, prompting Cirovski to note his team needs to be more disciplined and cut down on fouling in its defensive third.
The score also meant the Terps defense would face pressure as the time ticked down and the Broncos pushed forward for an equalizer, an experience St. Clair said was valuable.
"These are the moments that the backline lives for," the Pickering, Ontario, native said. "We want to do things in the beginning of the season to prepare us for the end of the season."
After the defense snuffed out a couple of Santa Clara attacks, Rozhansky extended Maryland's lead back to two with three minutes left, letting Cirovski and the team breathe a bit easier.
The Terps got their win, and the defense worked through an up-and-down performance it'll use to improve the rest of the year as the team contends for a national championship.
"Two goals is two too many," Cirovski said. "We're going to have to get better, and that's something that we're going to address going into Monday's game."