Down 1-0 in the 77th minute against a stingy Wisconsin Badgers team, the No. 8 Maryland men’s soccer team committed an eerily similar error in the midfield as midfielder David Kovacic turned the ball away on an errant pass.
The ensuing breakaway from forward Noah Melick, defender Brett St. Martin came in for the slide tackle just outside the crease. While the aggressive play from the senior captain narrowly avoided setting the Badgers up with a penalty kick, it did send him off the pitch with the first red card for the Terrapins this season.
It was that kind of day for Maryland as the frustration from the offense compiling just seven shots seeped its way into the defense, leading to a 1-0 loss.
“We played a team that was off for eight days and I think that, especially in the second half, we saw some of the legs weren’t quite there,” head coach Sasho Cirovski said. “We just got to find the right balance and get our legs and minds in the right place.”
A battle between two of the top-three defensive teams in the Big Ten went about as advertised in the opening ten minutes with neither side producing a shot attempt.
Maryland, however, was the more persistent of the two, dominating the time of possession but with little to show for against a stingy Wisconsin defense. It took 14 minutes before forward Justin Gielen headed the first shot attempt wide left of the net.
Wisconsin’s drought ended shortly after with a more enticing opportunity, as forward Andrew Akindele’s strike from the left side in the 16th minute ricocheted off the chest of goalkeeper Niklas Neumann.
The Badgers used this momentous shot on goal chance to shift the match into its pockets, as it was now the Terrapins’ poignant defense that was on its heels.
In the 20th minute off of a thrown in some 30 yards away, midfielder Ignasi Marques flicked a shot over his head that nearly dropped into the net. Neumann made the heads-up save to pop it over the top post and fend off a potential goal from the Badgers, but the near-miss gave Wisconsin the early shot advantage.
It was clear at the halfway point of the first half that this one was going to be won in the trenches. Both defenses hunkered down, with the Terps gaining a little more traction out of its offense with a shot on goal from Gielen and a third attempt courtesy of midfielder Malcolm Johnston.
A sudden change in the 33rd minute saw Wisconsin pressure the Terrapin defense more so than it had all day thus far, as two shots nearly broke the 0-0 deadlock.
Off of a slide tackle against defender William Kulvik, the Badgers found newly subbed in forward Jack Finnegan in open space down the left side, but his shot attempt rolled wide and segued into a corner kick for Neumann.
Just under two minutes later, following the takeaway against forward Joshua Bolma by midfielder Kyle McCurley, an attempt by defender Aron Saevarsson was deflected by his own teammate as the Terrapins settled down the rest of the period and entered halftime in another scoreless tie.
The Terps came out of the intermission as the clear aggressor, highlighted by Bolma taking on four defenders following a miscue from Wisconsin in the 48th minute. Shortly after Bolma’s hustle play, however, the Badgers flipped the script as the Terps fell back into bad habits.
Defender Kento Abe, who checked in for the injured Kulvik, turned the ball away on an errant pass attempt to forward Brayan Padilla. That translated to midfielder Tim Bielic nailing the top crossbar on a blistering shot attempt, a sigh of relief for the Terps.
On the next Badger possession, the defense broke down once again, only this time Wisconsin capitalized. In the 52nd minute, Marques shook off defender Chris Rindov to get a clean look at the goal, but Neumann stepped up to make the phenomenal save.
Unfortunately for Neumann, his hustle play would leave Akindele with nothing but real estate in front of him to knock in his first goal of the season and put the Terrapins in a precarious spot down 1-0 against such a prominent defense.
Wisconsin remained on the attack as Akindele looked to make it two goals in the 62nd minute. To no avail, Maryland made its move to try and find an equalizer.
In a bang-bang play, Bolma once again came flying into the crease to try and put Maryland on the board, but his collision with goalkeeper Adir Raphael sent the freshman to the bench for a few minutes.
Maryland’s offense couldn’t get a shot off against backup goalkeeper Carter Abbott — who started six games this season. That frustration boiled over to the defense, as a giveaway by Kovacic led to St. Martin picking up a red card and putting the Terps down a man for the first time all season.
Neumann kept the game within reach despite being down a man thanks to a pair of saves, but the frustration continued to rear its head as Bolma picked up a yellow for unsporting as defender Alex Nitzl simultaneously jawed with defender Zach Klancnick.
It was the beginning of the end for the Terps, as the offense attempted just seven shots and two shots on goal in a disappointing outing in Madison.
Maryland drops to 7-2-1 and out of first place with the loss and will look to right the ship against Northwestern in its next outing.
Three things to know
1. The offense looked anemic once again. It was the lowest shot output for the Terrapins all season in what was the team’s poorest performance to date. The defense held strong to keep the game within reach, even after falling down 1-0 and losing a man via a red card. But the offense suffered severely from a lack of opportunities.
After displaying tremendous offensive versatility in the opening weeks of the season, Maryland’s offense has gone cold. The offense will have to do some serious soul-searching following this one, as it now marks two consecutive games without a goal.
2. Maryland’s first half shutout streak continued. While Maryland has mustered just two goals in the opening 45 minutes of its past five games, the 3-4-3 formation has exuded its dominance by not allowing a first-half goal over the past five outings. This has certainly helped the Terrapins with its confidence heading into the second half, but the team can only go so far if the excellent defense doesn’t translate into offense.
3. Kulvik exited in the first half with an injury. With just three minutes remaining in the opening period, the sensational Kulvik took a seat and untied his left shoe to let his ankle breathe. On the previous play in a seemingly harmless slide tackle to fend off the Wisconsin breakaway, Kulvik popped up and began hobbling. The training staff came out to tend to the freshman defender, where after a few minutes he limped off the pitch. He did not return to the match.
“The impact of the injury was more significant than it probably should have been,” Cirovski said. “We sort of never recovered.”
Defender Kento Abe checked in and while the sophomore has proven to be a valuable piece for the Terrapins this season, the recent emergence of Kulvik could be a big loss if he is forced into an extended absence.