The opening period between the No. 12 Maryland men’s soccer team and Pacific went by without either team finding the back of the net. Despite the Terps being the superior team on both sides of the ball, its offense struggled once again in the first 45 minutes.
Like a firecracker, however, Maryland quickly put its disappointing opening period in the rearview mirror. In the span of six minutes, the Terrapins poured on three goals.
The first came in the 53rd minute off of the head of defender Chris Rindov. Four minutes then went by before forward Caden Stafford made it 2-0. And with the cherry on top, midfielder Ben Bender scored his fourth goal of the season in the 59th minute.
The game script completely flipped in the blink of an eye, as Maryland prevailed 3-0 and reached double digit wins with three games remaining on its regular season schedule.
“That second half was vintage Maryland soccer,” head coach Sasho Cirovski said. “This is something I have been asking from our team and demanding and we finally got it to score three goals in five, six minutes. That’s the kind of mentality I’ve been trying to get out of our team.”
The Terrapins were a little short tonight with forward Justin Gielen and midfielder Malcolm Johnston unavailable and that lack of veteran leadership showed in the opening few minutes. Maryland failed to gain any considerable ground on Pacific, leading to zeros in the shot column for both sides in the first ten minutes of action.
A methodical approach from both sides proved trouble for the offenses as neither defense would give in. Defender William Kulvik cut out a chance for the Tigers in the 11th minute with a smooth slide tackle, but Pacific’s defense responded right after by turning away a solid cross by forward Brayan Padilla.
The first shot attempt of the game came in the 14th minute, with Bender missing wide left. Pacific responded a few minutes later with a shot from midfielder Samuel Villalta that rolled wide left.
Maryland began to pick up the pressure after the 20-minute mark, as forward Joshua Bolma’s screecher aimed at the top left corner just missed. On the next possession, Stafford sent a shot wide right as two good looks just didn’t fall for the Terps.
A prime opportunity then followed for the Tigers in the 28th minute. A through ball to forward Mamoru Kamisasanuki set up a two-on-one chance. Kamisasanuki found defender Erik Centeno open, but the freshman failed to convert as his cutback and subsequent shot narrowly soared over the top post.
As the clock winded down in the opening period, Cirovski began to look to his thinner than usual bench for a spark, subbing in junior forward Seungeon Kim for his first appearance of the season.
The Terps had mustered just four shots up to the point of Kim’s substitution, a slight decrease from its lowly output of six in the first half of its latest match against Delaware.
Maryland’s offense has been an enigma all season. It started hot as ten different players found the back of the net in its first six matches. Since the conference-opener against Michigan, however, the Terrapins have had trouble finding consistency.
A pair of two-goal outings preceded a pair of zero score showings. The three-goal Northwestern game followed, but they fell back into its inconsistency issues against Delaware with 16 shots attempted before finally breaking into the scoring column.
While the Terps finished the first half with six shots, it was nonetheless a disappointing opening period for a Maryland offense trying its best to compliment the stout defense.
“[Sasho] said he expected more from us,” Rindov said about the halftime pep talk. “Even though the first half wasn’t bad, it wasn’t great.”
Maryland came out of the intermission scorching hot. Two corner kicks in the opening five minutes set the tone before Rindov hammered in a phenomenal header, assisted by Kulvik, to put the Terps up 1-0.
Four minutes later in the 57th minute, the Terrapins continued to expose the cracks in Pacific’s defense. Bolma found a cutting Stafford, who gathered the first touch and fired off a ground ball through traffic to make it 2-0.
The onslaught continued less than two minutes later, with Bender scoring in consecutive games following a pair of deflections.
In the blink of an eye, Maryland had turned this match upside down. What was once a hard-fought defensive battle switched into a scoring clinic all within six minutes.
“During the first half I thought we were a little off in some of our connections, so I think this gives us confidence and understanding of how to click together,” Cirovski said.
Things began to slow down thereafter, as Maryland’s defense continued to hold Pacific under lock. The visitors tallied three shots in the second period compared to Maryland’s eight, putting an exclamation point on the evening.
It was the second consecutive shutout for the Terrapins, as they improve to 7-0-1 at Ludwig.
Three things to know
1. The shorthanded Terrapins weren’t fazed. With two of its regulars out of commission in this one — plus defender Nick Richardson being available but coming off of a knee injury that forced him out of the last two matches — Maryland entered this one battered. Luckily for the Terps, it’s not like they haven’t been in this situation before.
After catching the injury bug last season, Maryland has flexed its depth in 2021. Even with its deep bench, the starting 11 were tasked with a heavier load. The cushion given by the second half scoring clinic levied the burden a bit, but nine players played over 60 minutes as Maryland churned out the decisive victory.
“If you work as hard as you can, the guys on the bench will come on and do their job,” Rindov said. “So that’s kind of what we expect and it’s great when you got the players of their quality. You could trust every single one of these players.”
2. Maryland is ready for the upcoming stretch. Aside from a difficult performance in the opening half, Maryland looked the part in the second half. The talent level at Cirovski’s disposal is unmatched and while they are performing, it’s been tough to put it all together. The second period was a complete effort on both sides of the ball, possibly alluding to a more unified Maryland team at a crucial time of the season coming up.
“I thought we did a great job of being relentless in our defensive pursuit,” Cirovski said. “And then I thought we also showed some ruthlessness in the attack and I think that’s a little bit more like what I want to see from our team on a more consistent basis.”
3. Defense was the name of the game in the first half. Maryland’s defense continued its gritty stretch, but Pacific pulled out a shocking performance in the opening period. Allowing the third-highest goals allowed average in its conference, the Tigers went toe to toe with the Terrapins. Maryland got just six shots off and had trouble gaining its footing in the attacking third. The game became lopsided in second half, but this one had all the looks of a gritty defensive showdown.
“Sasho fired us up and we came out with a burst of energy,” Stafford said. “Somehow we need to find that energy that Sash gives us at halftime [from the start].”