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Maryland women’s soccer vs. Illinois preview

The Terps continue to search for their first conference win as Big Ten play continues.

Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics

Maryland women’s soccer makes the trip to Champaign, Illinois, to face the Illinois Fighting Illini Sunday afternoon.

“Always got to get some points on the road,” Maryland head coach Ray Leone said postgame after Thursday’s matchup with Iowa. “So, we’re going for broke on Sunday, that’s for sure.”

Thursday was a tough outing for the Terps, who were without their best offensive player in forward Alyssa Poarch. Maryland was never able to generate any seriously threatening scoring chances in the 2-0 loss. An 85th minute goal from forward Alyssa Walker put the finishing touches on the Hawkeyes’ victory. The Terps kept Iowa in check for various stretches, but were ultimately unable to withstand the Iowa offensive attack.

Sunday’s match is set for a 1 p.m. start and will air on BTN Plus. To learn more about the Fighting Illini, follow along.

Illinois Fighting Illini (4-7, 0-4 Big Ten)

Spring 2021 record: 6-5-1 (6-4-1 Big Ten)

Head coach Janet Rayfield is in the midst of her 20th straight season as the leader of the Illinois women’s soccer program. Though Illinois has not made the NCAA Tournament in eight years, Rayfield put the program on the map, leading it to 10 of 11 postseasons from 2003-13. In her two decades at the school, Rayfield has gathered a remarkable 212-156-35 record. The 2011 Big Ten Coach of the Year is the winningest coach in Illinois history.

The Fighting Illini have stumbled out of the gates in conference play, losing each of their first four games. Illinois has battled, losing each of their four games by one goal, but have still yet to see results. Illinois was projected to finish ninth in 2021 Big Ten Women’s Soccer Preseason Poll, but sit alone at the bottom of the conference through four games.

Players to know

Hope Breslin, redshirt senior midfielder, No. 10 — Being with the program since 2017, Breslin has exploded in her fifth year. The Massapequa, New York native has paved the way for the Fighting Illini, leading the team with six goals. Starting all 11 games for the Fighting Illini this season, Breslin’s 17 shots on goal also lead the team. Despite not recording a shot in the past two games, Breslin was a threat in Illinois’ conference home opener, getting off five shots and scoring a goal.

Makena Silber, senior forward, No. 20 — Throughout her college career, Silber has been decorated with awards. The senior picked up both Third Team All-Big Ten and United Soccer Coaches Third Team All-North Region honors this past spring. The honors were justified, as Silber led the Fighting Illini with 27 shots and 16 shots on goal. In addition, all of her three goals were game-winners. Silber’s strong spring has carried over to this season, where she has scored five goals, notched two assists and is tied for the team lead with 12 points.

Kendra Pasquale, redshirt junior defender, No. 12 — The 2020 Team MVP and Team Offensive MVP is already making her impact felt this season for Illinois. Pasquale has compiled three goals and two assists thus far. Her efforts in the spring, leading the team with five goals and 12 points, were not only enough to win Team MVP honors, but she was selected to the All-Big Ten Third Team along with Silber.

Strength

Scoring goals. Despite having a losing record and no Big Ten wins so far, Illinois puts up scoring numbers that rank near the top of the conference. The Fighting Illini have only been shutout once, a 1-0 loss to Northwestern this past Thursday. Illinois averages 1.91 goals per game, which ranks third in the Big Ten. The Fighting Illini have had eight different goal scorers, five of which have at least two goals. Its offense is not the reason why it is losing games, which makes it

Weakness

Allowing goals. The stat sheet tells the story for why the Fighting Illini have struggled this season. Yes, their offensive output is respectable, but their defense has been the main issue. Illinois has allowed the most goals per game in the Big Ten with 1.73 per contest. A team allowing close to two goals every night buries itself in a hole, regardless of how good its offense could be. Maryland has a chance to exploit a Fighting Illini defense that allows a lot of goals.

Three things to watch

1. Liz Brucia will be back in goal for the Terps. Since goalkeeper Madeline Smith was cleared on Sept. 9, it was the norm for Smith and Brucia to split time in net. Brucia would start, and Smith would play the second half and overtime, if necessary. Leone sees both goalies as 1A and 1B, and playing both would keep each of them fresh whenever needed. However, Smith played the entirety of Maryland’s last game against Iowa. Leone said postgame that Brucia would be back in the net for all 90 minutes against Illinois. This is all a part of his plan to keep the two keepers fresh.

2. Can Maryland’s offense finally break through? The Terps’ offense hit a wall in September. Maryland has only scored three goals in its last seven games, good for just under 0.43 goals scored per game. While a lot of that can be credited to the absence of star Alyssa Poarch, the Terps have really struggled to generate anything. In four Big Ten games, Maryland has only scored two goals. Playing a poor Illinois defense, the Terps have a chance to break through and produce some offensive results.

3. Can Maryland put forth a repeat performance of the last time it played Illinois? The Terps face an opponent they have a good history with in the Fighting Illini, as they lead the all-time series 3-2-1. The last time these two met was Oct. 6, 2019, when the Terps defeated Illinois in blowout fashion, 6-2. Two players on this year’s roster, Poarch and defender Adalee Broadbent, each put forward multi-goal efforts that day. Illinois is clearly a team that can be beat, and the Terps desperately need to pick up some points on the road.