Periodically, I like to use my space here at PressBox to plead with you to expand your horizons as a Baltimore sports fan.
While the Orioles and Ravens are the dominant forces that bring local sports fans together, it is my contention that the heart of Baltimore sports can be found elsewhere. Sometimes that's a high school football game or a minor league baseball game. Other times it's a Coppin State-Morgan State basketball game or a Towson-Johns Hopkins lacrosse showdown.
This month provides you another unique opportunity to celebrate local sports in a way more meaningful than another trip to a downtown stadium.
On Sept. 26, the UMBC men's soccer team will host the Maryland Terrapins at Retriever Soccer Park in Catonsville, Md. It will be a special night in Baltimore in front of a raucous, packed crowd that will provide an atmosphere that cannot be duplicated in local sports.
If you believe yourself to a "Baltimore sports expert" or "the biggest Baltimore sports fan on the planet," you're kidding yourself if you aren't there.
The in-state rivals haven't faced each other at the Retrievers' home since Sept. 13, 2011. That night produced one of the greatest contests in local sports memory. The teams traded blows for 90 minutes before the Terps ultimately came out on top, 4-3, in the second extra-time period. Fans of both programs jammed into the Retrievers' home field, yet they had no idea they'd be rewarded with a battle for the ages.
"I remember saying that night [that] college soccer in the state of Maryland won because it was a great crowd, it was a great atmosphere how they were cheering. It was a great game," UMBC head coach Pete Caringi told Glenn Clark Radio Aug. 24.
"What a great game it was. It's probably one of the better games I've ever been involved with."
It was one of the best games in any sport I've ever witnessed. That's not hyperbole. When readers and listeners ask me about my favorite moments from covering area sports, they're stunned to learn Super Bowl XLVII isn't even in the top three, but the 2011 Maryland-UMBC soccer match is. That's how much I enjoyed that night. I went by myself and spent the night visiting with various friends related to both institutions. I could not possibly have imagined how much the game would stick with me to this day.
At the time, we knew the Terps were just three years removed from their second national championship under head coach Sasho Cirovski. What we didn't know was that some players on the pitch for UMBC that night would go on to lead the Retrievers to an improbable run to the College Cup (or Final Four) in 2014. That run to the national semifinals included a scoreless road draw with the Terps during the regular season and then a remarkable, 1-0 win in College Park, Md., during the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
This season, the Terps appear to be poised to compete for another run at a national championship, while the final remnants of the Final Four team at UMBC are trying to provide guidance to a young roster in an attempt to help them get back to such lofty heights. Both have remained among the most consistently performing programs in local college sports year in and year out.
But whatever the teams end up doing at the end of the season, there will be memories made that night in Catonsville. There will be large swaths of fans supporting both schools. In fact, many individual fans may actually be supporters of both programs. (Some of us actually attended both schools during our college careers.)
There will also be tons of youth soccer players from the area whose parents will choose this particular game to celebrate the sport with them. The hill at Retriever Soccer Park will be electric, and the players on the field will understand how much more significant the game is than any other nonconference tilt early in the season. It will be the absolute single-best place to celebrate your local sports fandom on a Tuesday night in September.
Even if you're not a college soccer fan or a soccer fan in general, take the chance. The atmosphere alone will be so enjoyable that you should be able to come around. Just don't ask me who I'm rooting for. I'm with Coach Caringi -- the entire local soccer community wins that night.