In its final regular season game of the 2019 slate, No. 17 Maryland men’s soccer will welcome Michigan to Ludwig Field Sunday afternoon.
The Terps enter this one looking to recoup their positioning in the Big Ten standings after a loss to Penn State last Tuesday night dropped them to 3-2-2 in conference play. Though a win would guarantee that Maryland would host its first game of the Big Ten tournament, a loss could mean the Terps would have to win away from Ludwig Field, something they’ve only done once this season.
“I really like where we’re at,” head coach Sasho Cirovski said. “We’ve got a big challenge on Sunday right now against a team that’s in form and has gotten a lot of their injuries back, so all focus is on Michigan right now.”
The all-time series between the two squads dates back only as far as Maryland’s inception into the Big Ten back in 2014, with the Terps sitting at 2-3-2 in seven total matchups with the Wolverines. Michigan has also had the upper hand as of late, taking each of its last two matches against the Terps.
Michigan Wolverines (8-4-4, 3-1-3 Big Ten)
Head coach Chaka Daley has grown the Michigan soccer program into one of the best in the Big Ten over his eight year tenure with the team, but has done an exceptional job with the Wolverines over the last three seasons. Since 2017, Daley has led Michigan to a 32-15-10 record, including a Big Ten title and Big Ten Coach of the Year honor in 2017.
Players to Know
Graduate student forward Nebojsa Popovic (No. 33) has been Daley’s offensive centerpiece this season, leading the Wolverines in points through 16 games this season. After a productive three-year stint at Oakland, Popovic has immediately contributed in Daley’s system, leading the Big Ten in goals scored with 10, while adding three assists as well.
Senior forward Jack Hallahan (No. 11) has regressed a bit from last season, where he tallied eight goals and eight assists en route to winning Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year and was a MAC Hermann Trophy Semifinalist. He has just a goal and five assists to his credit this season, but still plays a significant role in Daley’s offense.
Junior midfielder Marc Ybarra (No. 23) has had his best season with the Wolverines in 2019, thriving as a facilitator in Daley’s offense. Leading the Big Ten in assists this season with eight, Ybarra is an essential cog that helps drive the Michigan offense.
Putting their teammates in position to score. Fueled in large part by Ybarra’s emergence as a facilitator, Michigan ranks as one of the top teams in the country in assists per game. Averaging 2.19 per contest, Michigan ranks 12th in Division I and 1st in the Big Ten in that category, a testament to Daley’s commitment to running tactically sound offensive attack.
Shot accuracy. There aren’t many things this Michigan team doesn’t at least do adequately, but if we were to nitpick anything, it’d be its shot accuracy. With just 42 percent of Michigan’s shots reaching the goal, it ranks at 94th in Division I in that category and in the middle of the pack the Big Ten at 5th.
Three Things to Watch
- How will Maryland respond to the Penn State loss? Save for the two back-to-back games they dropped early in the season, Maryland hasn’t lost multiple games in a row all season. Cirovski has said earlier this season that his team doesn’t take losing well, and Sunday’s match could be another reflection of such if the Terps come out on top.
- Can Eli Crognale continue to produce? The senior midfielder got off to a slow start offensively to begin the season, notching just a goal and an assist through Maryland’s first nine matches. But Crognale has really come on for the Terps as of late, recording an assist in each of their last four matches including a wonder strike of a goal against Penn State on Tuesday. Slightly reminiscent of how Amar Sejdic came on at the end of last season for the Terps, Crognale will need to continue to produce to fulfill their national title aspirations.
“From where he was as a high school senior to where he is as a college senior is quite incredible,” Cirovski said. “He’s become one of the best players in the Big Ten, and he’s making a name for himself nationally now as a guy that can play at the next level.”
3. Will teams continue to take a direct approach at the Terps? In almost every match so far this season, the opposing team’s formula for taking down the Terps has been to take a direct approach, playing long balls from the back and hoping the centre forwards can find the seam in the Maryland defense. Penn State was another such example, but Maryland appears to have improved at their opposition’s direct approach as the season has worn on.
“We’re comfortable playing against various different styles,” Cirovski said. “In reviewing the Penn State game I was very pleased with the overall commitment and effort.”