For some reason the NCAA decided the appropriate time between the first and second game in Friday night's College Cup should be 40 minutes rather than 30 undoubtedly delighting the already frigid crowd. Once the game got underway a very vocal section of Crew members quickly made their presence known with a series of chants and cheers familiar to anyone who has attended a game at Ludwig Field. And the crew's reward - a 2-1 Maryland win over Virginia and return trip to Chester on Sunday when the Terps will face Notre Dame for the National Championship.
Although Maryland didn't get off to the same sort of disastrous start they had against Georgetown in last year's semi-final, Virginia still appeared to be the more comfortable and aggressive team early on. They had a long possession of two or three minutes in the Maryland third including the only corner kick of the half in the third minute. However, The Cavs would pay for their aggression. It started when Jereme Raley picked off a pass in Maryland's third and pushed the ball ahead to Schillo Tshuma. After some effort, Shuma gathered the ball and bumped it ahead to Mikias Eticha at midfield. Eticha continued the lesson when he lofted a perfect ball toward Patrick Mullins who cagily turned the insider shoulder to stay onsides. Mullins then outraced his defender to the ball and one timed it from the top of the eighteen softly past Virginia keeper Calie Brown who had come far off his line. In the eleventh minute, Maryland led 1-0.
The goal picked up the Terps a bit and they began probing for chances and possessing the ball better than they had early in the game but Virginia also responded well denying Maryland any real chances while creating one or two of their own. One such exchange occurred about twenty-three minutes in that began with Tsubasa Endoh finding Tshuma in the left corner. Tshuma drew two defenders and punched a quick pass to Michael Sauers who had found space at the edge of the box about ten yards out. Sauers turned and drove into about four yards before he ripped a crossing pass but no one from Maryland had made a strong run down the center and the Cavaliers' defense easily picked it off. The Terps controlled the attempted clear and Dan Metzger played it wide right to Mullins but Virginia headed away the attempted cross. Playing as they do, the Cavs countered quickly. A long cross field pass by Eric Bird to Jordan Allen. Allen beat his defender down the left side but Maryland goalkeeper Zack Steffen covered the near post and punched the ball out with both hands. Virginia had a second swing but didn't connect cleanly and the Terps eventually cleared the ball.
Late in the half, Sunny Jane played a ball toward Mullins down the right side that looked similar to Eticha's but Mullins couldn't quite locate it though he did eventually win it and work his way through three Cavalier defenders to the corner of the box. He played a cross toward Jake Pace but it flew past the Terrapin forward.
The half ended with just the single goal by Maryland but a word needs to said about Maryland's back line. And I'll leave that word to Terrapin coach Sasho Cirovski, "I think our back line has really come together. Both Jereme Raley and Mike Ambrose have given us a lot of stability on the outside and both Suli Dainkeh and Chris Odoi-Atsem are just two guys who really understand their role to defend. That's what a lot of center backs don't really understand."
Maryland had the first chance of the second half and again, Patrick Mullins was the target. The run started in the forty-eighth minute when Dan Metzger played a ball wide to the left side near midfield. Abrose gathered it in and sent it back toward Eticha in the middle. Eticha made a quick one touch pass to Schuma who tapped it quickly ahead to Mullins.He took two dribbles and had space from about 13 yards in the center. A right footed shot might have scored but the extra half step to shoot with his left foot may have been the step that forced the shot high.
Of course, playing Virginia is a game of punch, counter-punch and this time happened so quickly that the Terps hadn't formed their defense. Darius Madison took the long goal kick and had an open look from the left side on the back shoulder of Suli Dainkeh. He blasted a low shot and Steffen got one diving hand on and in its path behind the Terrapin keeper found the left post. According to Steffen, "He hit it well. The ball was knuckling a little bit. The ball hit the bottom of my palm and then I look up and luckily it hit the post.That's why keepers thank the post." The ball then gently caromed back to Zack.
The Cavaliers were playing with a bit more urgency and pressed Maryland throughout. They had two good chances back to back in the fifty-fifth minute but in this instance the Terrapins defense held strong blocking one shot and clearing a cross..
The play continued back and forth until a UVA foul in the seventieth minute led to a yellow card and a free kick for Tsubasa Endoh from about 40 yards. The Cavaliers defense intercepted his serve and countered quickly but some outstanding defensive work by Shuma facing down Madison one on one force the sophomore's shot to sail harmlessly high and wide.
Following an offside call on Jake Pace, Endoh took a pass in Maryland's third from Raley. Endoh lofted a perfect aerial ball toward Mullins who split the two center backs and knocked in another perfect left footed one timer just inside the right post from ten yards in the seventy-sixth minute.
Virginia wasn't quite done fighting, though and after Jake Pace's header sailed high, they again countered off the goal kick. A collision between Dan Metzger and Virginia's Marcus Salandy-Dufour in the box led to a Cavaliers penalty kick just a minute and a half after the Mullins goal halved Maryland's lead.
The Cavaliers had one last gasp effort and that came in the eighty-eighth minute. Madison centered a pass from the right of the box for Brian James who had a clean look at the goal from 17 yards. He rocketed the ball toward the left post and Steffen used every inch of his 6'2" frame to get a hand on it for a breathtaking save. Virginia's header on the ensuing corner kick harmlessly hit the side of the net and the Terps killed the clock and will move on to Sunday's 3 pm final. "We're extremely excited to advance and to have a chance to play on Sunday," Cirovski said after the game. "Before the game I said it's going to take a special moment by a special player and looking to my right here, Patrick Mullins found two special passes and had two great finishes. To my left, Zack came up with the great save at the end that very few keepers can make. We're delighted that we get a chance to play again Sunday against a great Notre Dame team."
Stay tuned, folks. It's going to be a heck of ride.