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No. 7 Maryland men’s soccer vs. Penn State preview

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The Terps are coming off of an emotional road victory against Michigan State.

Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics

The No. 7 Maryland men’s soccer team extended its win streak to four on Friday with a hard-fought road victory. The Terps prevailed 3-1 in the contest thanks to clutch goals from forward Joshua Bolma and midfielder Ben Bender.

The story of the match, however, was the scary scene late in the first period, when midfielder Malcolm Johnston was stretchered off the pitch after suffering a head injury.

Head coach Sasho Cirovski visited Johnston in the hospital after the game, giving an encouraging update on the captain’s condition.

In a post on the Maryland men’s soccer Twitter page, Cirovski said that Johnston suffered a concussion, but was cleared to travel back with the team and will begin his road to recovery. Cirovski also praised his team’s performance following the unnerving moment.

With Johnston on the road to recovery, Maryland sets its eyes on a big road matchup against Penn State. The Nittany Lions trail the Terps in the Big Ten standings by just one point, setting up a showdown with major implications in the two teams’ positioning ahead of the Big Ten Tournament.

Catch the game on the Big Ten Network on Tuesday at 8 p.m.

Penn State Nittany Lions (8-6-1, Big Ten 4-2)

2020-21 Record: 9-2-2 (6-1-1)

Head coach Jeff Cook has been in the coaching scene since 1989 and is in the midst of a solid fourth season with the Nittany Lions. In just his second season, Cook elevated the program back into the national picture in 2019 with a six-win improvement. A 12-4-3 record helped Penn State clinch its first NCAA Tournament berth since 2014, which was followed up by a second straight berth in the spring. A third seemed to be all but likely, but Penn State has faltered down the stretch and is currently enduring a three-game losing streak.

Prior to his tenure with the Nittany Lions, Cook make stops with Division-III Wheaton College and Cincinnati before making a name for himself with the Dartmouth Big Green. In his 12-year run at the helm, Cook led Dartmouth to five Ivy League championships and seven NCAA Tournament berths.

This season, the Nittany Lions have seen success, particularly in the Big Ten. They’ve dropped just two conference games and they came in the most recent matchups. Penn State lost to Indiana, 1-0, on Oct. 17 followed by a loss to Ohio State, 2-1, on Oct. 22.

Players to know

Senior forward Danny Bloyou, 5-foot-8, No. 9 — Bloyou is the bonafide leader on offense exploding onto the scene in his debut season with the Nittany Lions in the spring. After two years at Old Dominion, Bloyou joined his former coach at the Philadelphia Union Academy and garnered third team All-American honors behind eight goals, good for 14th in the nation. His play has been a bit more sporadic this year, but an eight-point stretch over five games earlier this month gives credence to the senior’s abilities.

Sophomore midfielder Peter Mangione, 5-foot-10, No. 8 — Mangione is the most dynamic player in the Penn State lineup. The second year player out of Hunt Valley, Maryland, earned a Big Ten All-Freshman team nod for his debut season stat line of 18 points on six goals and assists, including three assists in his NCAA Tournament debut versus UMass. Mangione has continued to build on his already stellar resume, producing 11 points on the year with a nifty hat trick against Villanova his main claim to fame.

Junior midfielder Andrew Privett, 6-foot-2, No. 6 — Tied at the top of the conference in scoring, Privett has cooled off a tad after scoring four goals in September, including three in the first five matches of the season. He did provide the lone goal in Penn State’s last match against Ohio State, but his overall numbers have dipped since the calendar flipped to October following an 11-point September. Still, one of the preseason players to watch will always be a threat to score and could be beginning another torrid stretch.

Strength

Track record. Penn State was runner-up in the Big Ten Tournament last season, adding to its three other second-place finishes since its 2005 win. In 2021, Penn State has kept up its down-but-not-out mentality, as the team has come up a goal short against strong opponents such as Pittsburgh and Indiana.

Weakness

Lack of variability on offense. It’s never a bad thing to be scoring at a 1.53 per game clip, but when the list of scorers lacks much variability it can be a bit problematic with duping out opponents. Never underestimate anyone, but Maryland doesn’t have a ton of evidence to work with that would say otherwise, as three players (Mangione, Privett, forward Liam Butt) compile 15 of the 23 goals scored on the year.

Three things to watch

1. Big Ten implications for the Terrapins. This game will have a seismic effect on the seeding of the Big Ten Tournament. Maryland is tied for first with Indiana with 13 points, whereas Penn State is right behind with 12. If Maryland wins this one, it sets up a match against Indiana on Halloween that will decide the top seed. The Terps would just have to avoid losing against the Hoosiers, but the result versus Penn State has to go its way first.

A draw in Happy Valley leaves room for some parity with Penn State having a Halloween game too. However, this result would guarantee a home quarterfinal game for the Terrapins. If Maryland loses, they could drop to as far as the fifth seed given if Wisconsin were to beat Penn State and Maryland were to lose to Indiana on Sunday.

2. How will Maryland respond to the adversity? The second half in East Lansing was an inspiring effort in the wake of Johnston’s concussion. Not only that, but it was the first multi-goal victory on the road this season. Staying on the road, coupled with the added burden following the injury scare (albeit more assuring knowing of the status of Johnston), Maryland faces another huge road test. The Terps are no stranger to adversity, but how will this year’s team fare in another huge away game.

3. Can Niklas Neumann stay hot? The junior goalkeeper has played tremendously since taking over the starting job full-time on Sept. 17, limiting opponents to five goals across nine games. Neumann has pitched four shutouts and has recently been as impenetrable as ever. He has shown that he can step up in big moments, making key saves against Ohio State and Rutgers to keep the Terps in it. Michigan State got one by Neumann, but how will Penn State perform against a guy that continues to gain more and more confidence?