Terps grind Heels to win national title

December 15, 2008

FRISCO, Texas (AP) -- Graham Zusi has been a member of Maryland's two NCAA men's soccer championship teams in the past four years. The latest one was the sweetest.

Zusi's second-half goal gave second-seeded Maryland a 1-0 victory over 13th-seeded North Carolina in the NCAA College Cup championship game Sunday.

Maryland (23-3-0) took the title in 2005 when Zusi was a freshman who contributed off the bench. This time, Zusi was one of the Terps' senior leaders.

In the semifinals, the attacking midfielder notched the game's only goal in extra time to beat St. John's. Then, on the season's biggest stage, Zusi came through again with the game's lone goal.


"Both were special in their own ways," Zusi said of his two national titles. "But I'm extra happy to be a part of this one."

Maryland beat North Carolina (15-8-1) for the third time in as many meetings this season in the first all-Atlantic Coast Conference final in the 50-year history of the NCAA men's soccer tournament. The Terrapins are 7-0-1 against North Carolina in the last eight matchups, with the Tar Heels last beating Maryland in October 2003.

The Terps had winds gusting to 25 mph at their backs in the first half and they had four shots on goal to none for the Tar Heels as coach Sasho Cirovski urged his team to press for an early advantage.

Maryland didn't get the break it needed until there was 23:50 left. Tar Heels defender Eddie Ababio blocked Jeremy Hall's first shot, but Zusi blasted the rebound into the left corner from 18 yards out past North Carolina goalkeeper Brooks Haggerty.

"It's being in the right place at the right time, trying to step up when the team needs me most," said Zusi, chosen the tournament's Most Outstanding Offensive Player. "I was able to curl it around (Haggerty)."

Haggerty had little chance to get a hand on the game-winner.

"It bobbled around,(Zusi) was wide open up top, and he had all the time in the world," Haggerty said.

In early October, Cirovski wasn't sure if his team could contend for the national championship after the Terrapins were beaten at Clemson, 5-3.

But Maryland would not lose again, finishing the season with a team-record 16-game winning streak.

"Our goal at the beginning of the year was to be the last team standing," Cirovski said. "There was a time when we didn't think we had the fiber of a champion. But after Clemson, we challenged the players. This is the most balanced team I've had. This team set the gold standard for wins and shutouts (15, also a team record)."

North Carolina was denied a sweep of the men's and women's titles. The UNC women beat Notre Dame for the championship last Sunday.

The Tar Heels captured their only men's College Cup in 2001.

North Carolina had 16 shots, but Maryland keeper Zac MacMath needed to make only two saves.

"Maybe it was the fatigue factor, maybe it was lack of concentration and maybe the wind had something to do with it," Tar Heels coach Elmar Bolowich said. "I'd like us to take more shots on goal but Maryland's a strong defensive team and didn't give us many looks."

Maryland's defense was led by Omar Gonzalez, a Dallas native who was chosen the tournament's Most Outstanding Defensive Player.

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