Defender Ryan Blumberg had seen just nine minutes of action throughout his career with the No. 7 Maryland men’s soccer team. On Sunday, Blumberg garnered his first career start against No. 22 Indiana on Senior Day and took the field out of the halftime intermission as well.
Four minutes into the second period with the score tied at zero, Blumberg’s moment finally came. Off a corner kick from midfielder Ben Bender, Blumberg rose up and headed in the leading-snatching goal.
Blumberg was overcome with emotion following the score, visibly holding back tears as Maryland’s defense looked to close out the match.
Head coach Sasho Cirovski subbed in defender William Kulvik a few minutes later, leading to a beautiful moment between the oft-injured defender and his coach.
The magical moment wrote itself, as Blumberg’s goal was the difference-maker in Maryland’s hard-fought 2-0 victory against Indiana.
“To score was just a huge build up of emotions that kind of came out of nowhere,” Blumberg said. “It was just an amazing feeling and I can only truly be grateful and thankful for my teammates for continuing to support me and especially the sports trainers and everyone that been around me who have helped me get here.”
With The Crew donning their Halloween attire and the Terps celebrating their seniors in its regular season finale at Ludwig Field in College Park, the stage was set for a pivotal showdown between the Big Ten’s two elite programs.
Indiana flexed its muscles in the early going as the midfield swarmed the Terps and gave them little to no room to operate. But the Terps responded well to the tight pressure, working it into the attacking third.
Five minutes in, Maryland’s overcommitment to finding some offense nearly cost them, but the ensuing breakaway chance from forward Tommy Mihalic was blocked.
Both defenses buckled down, but Maryland’s aggressiveness on offense greatly hindered its development. By the 13th minute, the Terrapins had committed its third offside penalty, a far cry from its conference-leading 1.19 per game clip.
Those missed chances came back to bite the Terps, as Indiana was able to capitalize on too many men forward in the 15th minute.
A beautiful through ball to forward Samuel Sarver in transition gave Maryland a scare, but goalkeeper Niklas Neumann met Sarver at the top of the box to make the save before the second effort from Mihalic sailed out of bounds.
A good amount of time went by before Maryland got its first real chance at goal from forward Jacen Russell-Rowe, but the sophomore’s flick over his head landed into the waiting hands of goalkeeper Roman Celentano.
Despite the failed attempt at breaking the scoreless tie, Maryland’s first shot on goal of the afternoon began a prolonged stretch of set pieces in Indiana territory.
The momentum was in favor of the Terrapins, but nothing came of the shift. The 35th minute presented a prime opportunity for Bender to continue his goal streak following a phenomenal pass from forward Caden Stafford, but his weakly hit ball to the bottom left was scooped up by Celentano.
Much like its previous outing, Maryland seemed to be holding onto the momentum with halftime looming. But similar to Penn State, Indiana made a late push to change the tides of the match.
In the 44th minute, a missed offside call on forward Herbert Endeley threatened the first-half shutout from Neumann. After failing to make the stop, Neumann left the goal wide open for Endeley to send Indiana into the intermission up 1-0, but defender Chris Rindov made a massive block on the right side to send the Terps into the half with a huge boost.
As advertised, this matchup between the No. 16 (Maryland) and No. 18 (Indiana) teams in RPI mirrored the intensity of a playoff game. The Hoosiers held a +3 shot advantage over the Terps, but Maryland was stifled by six offside penalties.
The poise of the Hoosiers was on full display, but the play from Rindov to end the half looked to energize the offensive approach from the Terps in the closing period.
“I told our guys that we played a good half, but were a little careless with the ball at midfield,” Cirovski said. “We made the saves you need to win games and now we need to go out and start putting the ball into the back of the net.
The Terps opened up their offense and came out firing, getting off two shots in the opening few minutes. Then the magic happened in the 49th minute, as Blumberg scored the pivotal goal off of the assist from Bender.
Maryland’s offense responded nicely to Rindov’s fantastic play to end the first half and it continued to lay it on the Hoosier defense, with a handball from defender Daniel Munie setting up Bender for the penalty kick opportunity in the 54th minute.
Bender’s attempt got Celentano to dive the wrong way, but a save from the goalkeeper’s foot staved off a second goal for the Terrapins. Seeking his fifth consecutive game with a score, Bender didn’t have to wait long to find the back of the net, however.
In the 56th minute, Russell-Rowe looked to feed forward Hunter George in the box, but an errant pass ended up finding the foot of defender Joey Maher, who then kicked it right back to Russell-Rowe.
Upon gathering the ball, the sophomore squared it back to Bender, where he unloaded a grounder past Celentano into the left corner for his seventh goal of the season, tying Penn State forward Andrew Privett at the top of the Big Ten leaderboard.
The rest of the way, Maryland bunkered down on defense to hold off Indiana’s attempts at making this one a game. Neumann was once again fantastic in goal, making four saves and commanding a formidable backline that kept the Hoosiers off the scoreboard.
“We played well [against Penn State] for moments but we really knew that we had to get a full performance in today in order to win this game,” defender Nick Richardson said. “Just everything was clicking. Niklas had some incredible saves, he kept is in the game and our midfielders worked much harder than [Indiana] and the attack was brilliant.”
Three things to know
1. The script for Ryan Blumberg couldn’t have been written any better. What a moment for the redshirt junior. After committing to Maryland in 2016, Blumberg was nominated for a preliminary trial with the Nike Football Academy. Upon impressing scouts, Blumberg signed with Nike, which eventually led to professional experience, leaving his Maryland career in flux.
Fast forward a few years, a flurry of injuries and a pandemic stagnated Blumberg’s opportunities to crack the rotation. His professional experience further complicated Blumberg’s path to playing time, as he had to sit out the 2019 season for eligibility reasons. The talented center back was running out of chances to make an impact with the Terrapins, but his header in the 49th minute was a long time coming.
“Over the past year it’s kind of just been up and down and coming back and getting injured again,” Blumberg said. “I didn’t think I was gonna play again, to be honest. For it to happen today was special and something that I’ll remember forever.”
2. Niklas Neumann held down the fort once again. Going up against an Indiana team that leads the Big Ten in scoring and hasn’t given up a goal in seven straight matches, Neumann was tasked with managing a difficult matchup against a tough competitor. Indiana’s weakness was prominent against Maryland’s backline, as the Hoosiers couldn’t get anything past Neumann and the rest of the defense. This marks Neumann’s fifth shutout of the season, setting him up with a nice confidence boost heading into postseason play.
3. Maryland’s positioning in the Big Ten Tournament. With Penn State’s victory over Wisconsin, Maryland secured the No. 2 seed in the Big Ten Tournament. That guarantees at least two home tournament matches if Maryland were to advance to the semifinals. Its first round opponent will be Northwestern, a team they defeated 3-1 earlier this month. The game will be played on Sunday, Nov. 7, with the kickoff time still to be determined.