It took 98 minutes before the first and only goal No. 12 Maryland men’s soccer scored in its match against Delaware, with midfielder Ben Bender playing the hero for the Terps, stunning the Newark crowd.
On the cross attempt by forward Justin Gielen, forward Joshua Bolma played the ball off of his stomach to the open grass in front of him. In came Bender, as the sophomore fired off a blistering shot with his left foot that found the back of the net.
Bender’s game-winner ended up being the go-ahead goal in Maryland’s 1-0 overtime win over Delaware on Tuesday night.
It was a game to forget for the Terrapins. Coming off of a tremendous bounce-back effort against Northwestern following a poor two-game stretch, the Terps fell flat in regulation. The Terps held a massive shot margin the length of the contest, but couldn’t buy anything until Bender’s awe-inspiring strike.
It wasn’t pretty, but Maryland got the job done and walked away with a victory to its name.
“There’s a lot of parody in college soccer, every games a tough game,” head coach Sasho Cirovski said. “We knew this would be a tough game and we made it tougher by not finishing our chances, but it says something about this team.”
Just as they have all season, the Terps offense came out with a very aggressive approach in the opening few minutes. Forwards Bolma and Caden Stafford each got off shots in the fifth minute to set the tone early, yet neither found the back of the net.
Delaware mounted a bit of momentum thereafter by perusing the Maryland side of the pitch, but no shots to its name left the Blue Hens vulnerable. A yellow card handed out to midfielder Tiago Santos added to the slow start by Delaware, but the Terrapins found themselves on equal footing.
Its five fouls compared to Delaware’s eight at the 20-minute mark helped to limit the momentum boosts in transition, but a prime opportunity was found in the 24th minute with a free-kick by Bolma, which was ultimately turned away by the Blue Hen’s wall.
Despite the poor attempts at capitalizing on Delaware’s aimless physicality to this point, Maryland received plenty of chances as a result of its opponent’s 13 total fouls and two additional yellow cards — midfielder Orri Thorhallsson and defender Hyunjun Sun in the 28th minute.
Those came via Bolma once again, as the speedster was all over the pitch to get shots four and five off, but to no avail. The first one was deflected by a tightly packed in Delaware defense, whereas the second attempt a few moments later sailed high.
As Maryland’s defense continued to silence the Blue Hen offense, Gielen got past a disoriented backline to get a one-on-one approach against goalkeeper Scott Sampson.
Gielen seemed destined to score on the massive miscue from Delaware, but Sampson made a phenomenal save to fend off Gielen’s strike.
In a game in which Maryland was expected to coast through its less seasoned opponent, it was held in check by the Blue Hens as the teams entered the break tied at zero.
“Our midfielders were getting man-marked so it was kind of hard for us to play through the midfield,” Bender said. “We talked at halftime to try and find spaces anywhere on the field... it’s about creativity. We have to find those spaces and just be creative to make those penetrating passes.”
Delaware came out of the half as the aggressor, with a near-miss just two minutes in by midfielder Ryan Mertz rising just above the top right corner of the goal. The urgency to score was on and Maryland just barely escaped a legitimate threat by the Blue Hens.
While the Terps continued to struggle to generate quality looks as the game approached the two-thirds mark, a plethora of Delaware giveaways kept the quest for momentum up for grabs.
Maryland had its fingertips on the elusive momentum shifter in the 70th minute, as forward Jacen Russell-Rowe’s attack on the far left side was saved by Sampson once again. That missed opportunity immediately segued into a breakaway for the Blue Hens, which was thwarted away without a shot attempt by a rock-solid backline, namely defender William Kulvik.
That trend continued for the Maryland defense, as Delaware received tremendous positioning on the attack — including a wide-open look in the middle of the box in the 72nd minute — yet couldn’t muster a shot attempt against a stout Terrapin defense.
As Maryland kept up the pressure heading into the final ten minutes of regulation, Sampson hunkered down to make another clutch save against a strike by Russell-Rowe. Despite ending regulation with a substantial shot advantage, the Terrapins headed into extra time for the second time this season.
Offside calls were kind to Maryland, as the Blue Hens were a bit too aggressive out of the gates, ending an opportunity in the 94th minute before it could start. Nevertheless, the flow of the game was on the side of the home team.
Suddenly, when it seemed as if Delaware was going to be the one to snatch the momentum ring that dangled above the pitch all game, it was Bender who swooped in and helped the Terrapins escape with the victory.
“Sometimes you don’t play your best game and you win,” defender Brett St. Martin said. “That’s the mark of a champion and that’s what we tried to show tonight.”
Three things to know
1. The Terps played down to its competition. It’s no secret that Delaware, a team that sits at 1-8-1 and allows 2.7 goals per game, is one of the weaker opponents on the Terrapins’ schedule this season. Yet, Maryland had to scratch and claw, winning the game via golden goal in the 98th minute. Despite the victory, Maryland looked vulnerable against a much weaker opponent, a significant development with just four games left in the regular season.
2. Maryland almost held Delaware to zero shot attempts in the first half. With three seconds left in the first period, forward Carlos Fernandez just let it fly as time expired, with goalkeeper Niklas Neumann making the easy catch on the wide attempt. Excluding that last-ditch effort to break the scoreless tie, Maryland held the Blue Hens to zero shot attempts in the first half. While the offense couldn’t get anything going, the defense once again proved its worth with another stout performance.
3. William Kulvik continued to shine. In a game without much offense, the defense was the focal point. While anchors Chris Rindov and St. Martin are seasoned veterans of Maryland’s backline, the freshman Kulvik has been a revelation at right back. His impact on the pitch couldn’t have been any more evident than against the Blue Hens. On several occasions, Kulvik cut off Delaware through balls to relay back to Neumann, resetting the offense in the process. His hustle across the pitch was eye-opening too, as Kulvik worked as a solid facilitator on the attacking third as well.