In 2016, the Maryland men's soccer team was on its way to a dream season.
The Terps entered the NCAA tournament as the No. 1 seed, undefeated with four double-overtime wins, a Big Ten regular-season title and a conference tournament championship. But in Maryland's first postseason match, Providence scored four goals in a 12-minute blur, erasing a 4-1 deficit and eliminating the Terps in stunning fashion.
"It was an irreconcilable loss," said coach Sasho Cirovski. "It was very difficult to take."
With a brand-new defense playing behind five returning starters at midfield and forward this year, the No. 6 Terps are determined to leave their painful past behind.
"Unfinished business," said forward Gordon Wild. "We're hearing — probably three to four times a week — about that game."
Wild figures to be a key component to a successful run this season. He scored 17 goals in 21 games last season and was a MAC Hermann Trophy Finalist. The Cologne, Germany, native leads an attack loaded with playmakers returning from the second-best scoring offense in the nation.
In his junior year, however, Wild's role has shifted. As defenses devote extra bodies to marking him, he hopes to develop into a better facilitator out wide.
When he surveys his passing options, Wild will see prolific players surrounding him.
"We know that anybody on this team can change the game in a second," said midfielder Jake Rozhansky.
Midfielder Amar Sejdic finished second on the team with nine goals last year.
Rozhansky and midfielder Eryk Williamson, who combined for 25 points in 2016, notched three goals and two assists in the Terps' season-opening 4-2 win at Santa Clara on Friday.
Junior forwards Sebastian Elney and DJ Reeves are the only members of Maryland's attack who didn't start most of last season. Still, Reeves made two starts and 19 appearances in 2016, and each of them had a three-goal sophomore campaign.
"It's just fun with the guys up top," Williamson said. "They make it fun."
The unknowns come on defense. Three starting defenders and starting goalkeeper Cody Niedermeier graduated. After the win over Santa Clara, Cirovski rattled off the various degrees of inexperience in the new-look backline.
Goalkeeper Dayne St. Clair started a pair of games in 2015 but took a redshirt season last year as he spent time with the Canadian U-20 National Team. Left back Chase Gasper played three games for UCLA last year before an injury forced him into a medical redshirt. Center back Johannes Bergmann, a sophomore from Erfurt, Germany, has never been on a college roster. Right back George Campbell spent his first three years in College Park playing midfield or forward.
Cirovski said he's comfortable with the defense, though it's a work in progress. He said the coaching staff has seen improvement through the group's first two games.
"[We want to] not just be a team that leads the country in goals scored — we want to be among the stingiest teams in the country this year," Cirovski said. "It's something I remind our team every single day."
The players said poor defending and lapses in concentration ended last year's season prematurely, prompting added emphasis on those areas in training.
Forwards and midfielders have also taken extra responsibility to help the defense as the team tries to prevent anything close to the defensive debacle that cost them against Providence.
"The day after [Providence], you [saw] guys out on the field preparing for this year," Williamson said. "That just made me want to … make sure that I'm fighting just as much as everyone else to chase the championship that we all want."