CHESTER, Pa. – 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 said. 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.
Today, 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 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.
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 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 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.