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No. 8 Maryland men’s soccer vs. Wisconsin preview

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Following a draw against Rutgers, the Terps will look to get back into the win column on Sunday.

Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics

The No. 8 Maryland men’s soccer team was handed its first draw of the season in a hard-fought defensive battle against No. 24 Rutgers on Tuesday.

It was an extremely physical matchup that resulted in seven yellow cards and 25 fouls, including 18 from the Scarlet Knights. That game-long intensity between two Big Ten foes extended into two overtime periods, ending in a 0-0 draw.

“We have to get sharper and better with our execution, but I think right now we’re in a good place,” head coach Sasho Cirovski said. “We’ve got some really challenging games ahead of us and the only way you can be successful in these games is to learn from the previous game. Soccer is a strange game. All it takes is one play, one moment, one call to not go your way and that results in either positive or negative results.”

Up next for the Terrapins is another defensive juggernaut in the Wisconsin Badgers. Whereas Rutgers was the second best defensive team in the conference by goals allowed per game, the Badgers sit atop the Big Ten leaderboard with a 0.56 average.

In seven games in the month of September, Wisconsin has allowed just two goals, presenting a tough road challenge for the first place Terps.

The game will be played at noon on Sunday and can be watched on BTN Plus.

Wisconsin Badgers 4-2-3 (1-0-1 Big Ten)

2020-21 record: 2-7-1

Head coach John Trask has been the head coach in Madison since 2010 and has alternated between winning and losing season. Between 2016 and 2018, the Badgers collected double-digit victories in each season, but prior to that had achieved the feat just twice in six seasons. Wisconsin stumbled backwards to a 3-11-4 record before the pandemic led to just a two-win season in Trask’s tenth year with the program.

This season has been a steady reminder of the two-time Horizon League Coach of the Year’s influence on the program. A 4-2-3 record has put Wisconsin in the conversation with the Big Ten’s best thanks to its gritty defense. A modest two-game win streak has further assisted the climb up the standings despite the plethora of draws.

Players to know

Senior forward Andrew Akindele (No. 8) — Akindele has been dealt hard luck this season as the team’s leading goal scorer from the spring hasn’t found the back of the net on 23 tries up to this point. He does have three assists, but the star forward has failed to replicate his All-Big Ten freshman team campaign where he tallied 12 points.

Senior defender Zach Klancnick (No. 12) — The most recent recipient of the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week, Klancnick has been a centerpiece of the Badgers’s stout defense. Despite not appearing in a game during his freshman season, Klancnick has churned out hefty minutes each of the past three seasons and the story has been the same this season, tallying the most minutes on the team with 888.

Goalkeepers, sophomore Carter Abbott (No. 35) and freshman (No. 33) Adir Raphael — A defense as good as Wisconsin doesn’t come to life without stellar play in goal. Between the two they have five shutouts, but even in games where they let a goal get by, it has been largely minimal.

Abbott’s 0.49 GAA and Raphael’s 0.54 are top-three in the Big Ten, but who will be in goal on Sunday is up in the air. Having started the prior five matches, Abbott has ceded starts to Raphael in the two most recent outings, creating some speculation as to an injury of sorts.

Strength

Defense. Wisconsin boasts the Big Ten’s best defense, pitching five shutouts en route to allowing just two goals in the month of September. The Badgers most recently shutout Rutgers 2-0, showing that they can prevail over equally competitive defenses. Maryland’s third-ranked Big Ten defense will look to prevent the Badgers from repeating that game script.

Weakness

Translating defense to offense. The tradeoff for such a strong defense has been a poor offense this season from Wisconsin, as they sit in the basement of the conference with a one goal per game average. This has resulted in three games going the full 110 minutes (1-0-2). Surprisingly enough, the two most recent double overtime contests preceded Wisconsin’s recent two game win streak that has seen a pair of 2-0 shutouts. The conditioning has been excellent for Trask’s squad and the offense has been stellar of late, but we will see if the recent surge is a fluke or a sign of things to come.

Three things to watch

1. Can Maryland stay atop the Big Ten standings? The draw against Rutgers separated the Terps from the pack of three teams with six points (Penn State, Michigan, Indiana). But another draw and especially a loss could push Maryland off of the top of its pedestal. For Maryland, the message all year has been “it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish,” but prevailing over a stingy opponent like Wisconsin could be the statement victory the Terps have been seeking.

“They’re pretty much no nonsense, you know, they’re not going to try and mess around if we’re pressuring them,” defender Chris Rindov said. “So we’re just gonna have to try and break them down … We’re going to try and just keep the ball, build up the back and kind of stretch them out a little bit.”

2. Will the midfield tidy up its turnover problems? Despite holding the shot advantage and occupying the possession arrow for a majority of the match, Maryland nearly let Rutgers break through its rock solid defense a few times due to unforced turnovers. Head coach Sasho Cirovski believed his team was a step too slow and that was evident in the midfield with a handful of careless giveaway. Moving the offense and getting quality looks starts in the trenches, and the Terps midfield will aim towards maximizing its chances even more with a more conservative approach.

“We’ve tried to put emphasis back on our style of play and just regaining that confidence,” midfielder Malcolm Johnston said. “We want [Wisconsin] to play our play style not for us to play their play style. That’s been our main focus.”

3. How will Maryland react on the road this time around? In two true road matchups this season, the Terps are 1-1, but those results have not been the prettiest. It was first a thrashing from the top-ranked Georgetown Hoyas on Sept. 11 that saw an anemic Maryland team get thoroughly outplayed. On Sept. 24, the Terrapins looked to be well on its way to a dominating victory over the Buckeyes, but a comfortable first half performance segued into a putrid second half as the Terrapins played on its heel for practically the entire second period. Going into Madison for its third true road game, Maryland will look to exact its demons and produce a full 90 minutes of flawless soccer.

“I think the focus always needs to be on our own execution,” Cirovski said. “I think they’re the stingiest of all the Big Ten teams right now. We know it’s going to be a very difficult challenge to break them down and create opportunities, but we’re up for the challenge.”