A huge match between No. 7 Maryland men’s soccer and Penn State pitted the two leading scorers in the Big Ten against one another at Jeffrey Field in State College.
Midfielders Ben Bender (16 points) and Andrew Privett (15 points) have dominated Big Ten play this season and their respective teams have been heading in opposite directions in the conference standings.
While Penn State had endured a three-game losing streak, the Terps were riding hot with a four-game win streak. The opposing trajectories were as evident as ever in the first half as Bender broke the scoring open in the 12th minute.
Forward Caden Stafford made it 2-0 in the 31st minute, but the game soon turned sideways after Penn State scored its first goal with just over five minutes remaining in the half.
From there, Penn State overwhelmed Maryland, eventually tying the match and sending it to overtime. The effort from Bender and the Terrapins lacked juice and it was Privett who completed the comeback for the Nittany Lions four minutes into extra time.
After leading by two goals towards the tail end of the first half, Maryland gave up all of its momentum in a flat second half to lose 3-2, taking a significant hit to its quest for the top seed in the Big Ten Tournament in the process.
“We knew the second half was going to be difficult because we now had to content with wind and the rain,” head coach Sasho Cirovski said. “We knew that we had to make a lot of plays on the defensive end and I thought we did a good job for the most part, but obviously in the end it wasn’t enough.”
After ten minutes of back and forth play, the Terrapins were first to break through thanks to another masterful score from the red hot Bender.
Forward Joshua Bolma sent a roller to the middle in the 12th minute to fellow attacker Stafford. Instead of driving home the feed through traffic, Stafford let the ball continue to roll between his legs, leaving Bender with an open look.
The goal was Bender’s sixth of the season and it marked four consecutive games with a goal from the star sophomore.
The energy picked up thereafter, with Maryland pouncing on a gassed Penn State defense with two quick shot attempts from forward Brayan Padilla and defender William Kulvik in the 15th minute.
Padilla’s shot was sent out of harm’s way at the goal line by defender Andrew Stevenson before Kulvik’s rebound attempt was sent wide right. A break in the action for an injured Nittany Lion allowed the home team to settle down following Maryland’s aggressive follow-up to Bender’s goal.
Privett was able to get off the team’s first shot attempt in the 19th minute as Penn State’s offense began to better navigate the Terrapin defense. Shots from Stevenson and midfielder Pierre Reedy aided Penn State’s refined approach, but goalkeeper Niklas Neumann and the rest of the defense remained air-tight as the period progressed.
That formidable defense translated to the attacking front in the 31st minute, as Stafford picked off an errant pass by defender Adam Laundree in its attacking third.
Stafford took it the whole way and used two cutbacks on defender Brandon Hackenberg to gain the separation for a thunderous right-footed shot that trickled through the legs of goalkeeper Kris Shakes. The ball had just enough momentum to slowly roll over the goal line, giving Maryland a pivotal 2-0 lead.
As it stood with just over five minutes remaining in the half, holding onto its lead would give Maryland a chance at the Big Ten regular season championship with a win or draw against No. 22 Indiana on Sunday.
But Penn State had other ideas. Needing a shot in the arm, the Nittany Lions got a huge break in the 40th minute as it finally got past Neumann. Forward Peter Mangione played spoiler to Neumann’s first-half shutout with the second effort to make it 2-1 at the half.
All the momentum built up by a phenomenal first half from the Terps was shot down by Mangione’s goal and Maryland had to work extra hard in the second half to hold off Penn State’s comeback efforts.
Despite holding the shot advantage, Maryland fell back on its heels as the relentless attack from Penn State built-up fuel. Multiple chances by the Nittany Lions threatened Maryland’s slim lead and they kept piling as a 60th-minute rocket from midfielder Seth Kuhn hit the top crossbar.
A bizarre sequence occurred in the 69th minute as Penn State continued to come up short on its equalizer attempts. Neumann’s play on the ball gave midfielder Pierre Reedy the open look, but his shot hit the back of the head of Mangione — who had slid into the corner of the net after missing the through ball — and ricocheted into the crossbar for no score.
Maryland’s defense was bending but not breaking until a careless giveaway on a throw-in set up a breakaway opportunity for the Nittany Lions. The ninth shot of the second period for the home team proved to be the long-awaited equalizer as Mangione’s cross to Kuhn in the 72nd minute tied the match up.
In a tale of two halves, Maryland’s offense had completely disappeared in this one as they trailed 19-11 in the shot column, including a -9 disparity in the second period. Despite the problematic performance, the Terrapins survived Penn State’s efforts to extend the game into extra time.
The added time only delayed the inevitable, however, as Maryland continued to struggle at keeping Penn State out of its attacking third, leading to the game-winning goal in the 94th minute by Privett.
Three things to know
1. Maryland completely faltered down the stretch. In what seemed to be another pivotal victory for the Terps as they led 2-0 with five minutes to go in the first period, a goal in the 40th minute from Penn State was the beginning of Maryland’s collapse. The second half was completely one-sided, as Maryland allowed nine more shots than the opposition. In such an important match, the Terrapins did just enough to hold off Penn State in regulation before ceding the third and final goal to lose in overtime.
2. Weather conditions played a role in the Terps’ second-half collapse. The conditions were not favorable in Happy Valley, but it was downright brutal for the Terrapins in the second period. The final 45 minutes, a time frame that Maryland was dominated in, forced the Terps into the strong wind gusts at Jeffrey Field. That continued into overtime, as Penn State won the coin toss and opted to play with the wind at its back, a decision that added onto Maryland’s struggles.
“It’s hard to get territory and keep control of the ball just in same way we dominated in the first half,” Cirovski said. “Wind plays a big factor in soccer ... it is what it is, so we’ll pick ourselves up and be ready for Indiana.”
3. An updated look at the Big Ten Tournament standings. With the loss, the Terps had their four-game winning streak snapped. Maryland dropped to 4-2-1 in conference games while Penn State’s 5-2 Big Ten record placed it ahead of the Terps and tied with a 5-2 first-place Indiana team. In what could have been a win or draw scenario for first place in the Big Ten, Maryland will now have to win outright against Indiana and hope Wisconsin beats Penn State to get home field advantage in the Big Ten Tournament.
“In our mind we still feel like we have a shot at winning the Big Ten championship,” Cirovski said. “Penn State will have a difficult challenge at Wisconsin and we will have Indiana at home and we’re going to be highly motivated after this heartbreaking loss.”
If Maryland were to lose on Sunday and Wisconsin defeats the Nittany Lions, a three-way tie for second with 13 points between the Terps, Michigan and Wisconsin would put Maryland at the four-seed. A draw or loss from Wisconsin and a win from the Terps could still put Maryland at the two-seed, but a draw for the Terrapins, regardless of the Wisconsin result, puts them in third place.