Getting bombarded with shots and corner kicks all day, Maryland women’s soccer was in a tough position despite having the lead first.
In the 76th minute, Illinois found itself inside the Maryland 18-yard box. The Terps’ defense was flustered, and Illinois’ pressure was overwhelming. Midfielder Makena Silber fired a left-footed laser on goal, forcing Brucia to dive to her right and make the save. Defender Kendra Pasquale was right there for the rebound, but her shot went off the crossbar.
Silber was there for the second rebound by the far post and directed the ball into the middle of the box. Defender Adalee Broadbent got a piece of it, but defender Ashleigh Lefevre was right there for the fourth attempt to hand Illinois the 2-1 lead.
The match wrapped up with the same score, as Lefevre’s goal was ultimately the game-winner. Illinois earned its first Big Ten win, while the Terps fell to 0-3-2 in conference play.
“We’re better than we’re showing,” Maryland head coach Ray Leone said. “And I think that’s the frustration and this is a very big challenge for us.”
Illinois was using high pressure to try and fluster the Terps early on, but Maryland orchestrated a response quickly.
Controlling possession in the eighth minute, forward Mikayla Dayes drifted through the right side of Illinois territory. Just a few yards away from the 18-yard box, Dayes shifted a pass into the box for a gliding Kori Locksley. The forward made a sensational play, dropping the ball between two defenders for wide-open midfielder Hope Lewandoski. Lewandoski, wide open from the six-yard box, fired one with her left foot and into the top of the net, giving the Terps a 1-0 lead.
Maryland continued to keep the pressure on, seemingly “going for broke” as head coach Ray Leone referenced postgame after Thursday’s matchup with Iowa.
Mikayla Dayes had a long-distance look from outside the box in the 12th minute and absolutely launched it on goal. Illinois goalkeeper Julia Cili jumped to make the save, which she got a piece of before it went off the crossbar and out of play. The sequence resulted in the Terps’, and the match’s, first corner kick, but Maryland was turned away.
Illinois answered with a corner of their own in the 15th minute and a shot from Silber that went over the net in the 17th, but Maryland continued to preserve its lead.
It was around that point when it started to rain at Demirjian Park, which could always affect how the game is played with wet grass and a wet ball. Despite the change in weather, Illinois had its foot on the gas, and was relentless for the rest of the first half.
By the 31st minute, the Fighting Illini were peppering Maryland with corner kicks, earning four in a span of about six minutes. While none of them were too dangerous, goalkeeper Liz Brucia and Maryland’s defense held steady, turning away all of them, including a play where Brucia tipped a near goal out of bounds for another corner.
Although the Terps stopped that spurt, Illinois came back with another, generating three more corner kicks in the 35th minute. Brucia made an outstanding diving save on Eileen Murphy, shoving the ball out of bounds for another corner that Maryland turned away.
Before one could even blink, the Fighting Illini’s barrage of corner kicks continued, earning their incredible 11th corner kick in the 41st minute. Brucia made yet another save on the bouncing shot of her former Georgia teammate in midfielder Sydney Stephens, leading to the corner. Murphy attempted a header on the opportunity, but it was off target, and Maryland finally cleared the ball.
“We’re just getting beat on the flank and we’ve got to correct that,” Leone said. “We try to put screeners in front of our outside backs to kind of help them out a little bit, give them some better options, so we’ll have to kind of go and look at the tape and see what we need to do to improve.”
The scoreboard showed Maryland winning 1-0 at halftime, but the Fighting Illini were completely dictating the pace of this one. The Terps were lucky, to say the least, to escape unscathed.
Maryland earned a corner of its own exactly one minute into the second half, trying to change the tone of this one. Maryland did not get a shot off, but it continued to control possession.
Midfielder Catherine DeRosa almost doubled the lead in the 48th minute from point-blank range, but Cili was right there to make the low stop.
Though Maryland was back in the driver’s seat, Illinois was inches away from tying it up in an instance. In the 60th minute, forward Maeve Jones rifled a shot from out top, which dinged off the crossbar and back in play. Midfielder Hope Breslin followed it up with a shot, but Brucia secured the save.
An Illinois handball from just outside the box led to a dangerous free-kick for the Terps in the 63rd minute, but Catherine DeRosa’s attempt bounced off the head of Murphy and out for a corner. Maryland could not do much on its third corner of the game, but it was outplaying Illinois.
Regardless, Illinois crafted an answer immediately after. With only 26 minutes to play, Ashley Cathro had possession by the left side of Maryland’s 18-yard box. Cathro let loose a dime into the middle of the box, where multiple Fighting Illini players were. Brucia dove to try and stop the cross, but it was too late. Jones leaped with her foot and tapped it in, tying the game for the Fighting Illini.
Out of the blue, Illinois was back in control. It earned its 12th and 13th corner kicks just moments after, and a look from Breslin should have given it the lead. Breslin was left alone with a wide-open net, but her shot skied over the goal.
Despite Breslin’s miss, Illinois would soon capitalize on its momentum. Even though the Terps started the half strongly, Illinois was in full control.
Lefevre’s goal gave the Fighting Illini the lead, and they never looked back from there.
“[It] was defending too many things,” Leone said. “The backline of particularly [Adalee Broadbent] and [Malikae Dayes] were just unreal.”
With ten minutes to play, the Terps desperately needed to create something to send the match to overtime.
That did not seem to be the case, though, as Illinois continued to possess the ball and forward Toni Domingos was hit with a yellow card in the 86th minute.
Maryland could not generate anything in the final minutes, as Illinois’ comeback win was wrapped up in regulation.
“Today, you know, some of the efforts that I was seeing out there was just inspiring, and so I told them I’m gonna fight for them,” Leone said. “Until every single second of every single game. And if they all do that...hopefully we will be able to turn this around.”
Three things to know
1. Despite exiting with the lead, the Terps were thoroughly outplayed in the first half. The game started slow, and Lewandoski’s goal was the first real chance for either team. Midfielder Loren Sefcik’s shot in the 27th minute was Maryland’s last opportunity of the half, as Illinois just completely took over the game. After 45 minutes, Illinois had 11 corners and was outshooting Maryland 10-3. The corner kick bombardment was incredible, as it seemed Illinois had a corner kick every time the game started. A ton of credit must be given to Brucia, who remained unflustered and kept the Terps in front halfway through the game.
2. Liz Brucia kept Maryland in this one. Illinois’ episode of corner kicks in the first half was surreal. It was corner after corner and chance after chance for the Fighting Illini in the frame. But Brucia was there every time, either to make a save, direct her defense, or clear the ball herself. Although she gave up two goals and was credited with the loss Sunday, she has nothing to be down about, as her efforts were monumental for Maryland.
“Her reactions, her courage, reading of the game, she was really, really fantastic,” Leone said. “I’m happy for her performance. You really never want your goalkeepers to do that much, but she did a lot, and she was fantastic.”
3. The Terps did not generate enough offensive chances. Going into Sunday, Maryland knew it would have its hands full with an Illinois offense that scores the third-most goals per game in the Big Ten. Their offense lived up to the hype, blasting 22 shots and recording 14 corners en route to the 2-1 win. Maryland only had 10 shots, which was not enough to hang with Illinois in the fast-paced game.