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No. 12 Maryland men’s soccer vs. Northwestern preview

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Having not scored in its previous two outings, righting the ship is on the minds of the Terps heading into Friday.

Courtesy of Maryland Athletics
UMTerps

No. 12 Maryland Men’s soccer was completely neutralized in its most recent outing against Wisconsin, losing 1-0 and falling four spots in the rankings because of it.

Once again, the Terps looked a step slower than its Big Ten counterpart. While its matchup against defensive-minded Rutgers earlier in the week led to a draw, the equally strong defense of the Badgers used a key second-half goal to send Maryland packing.

“I think we just maybe lost our mentality a little bit on both sides of the ball in terms of our tempo for defensive pressure,” head coach Sasho Cirovski said.

Next up is Northwestern, a team less formidable on the defensive end than Maryland’s previous two opponents, yet still a quality program looking to build on its current two-game win streak.

The Terps will look to get back on track in front of The Crew under the lights on Friday at 7 p.m. The game will be broadcasted on BTN Plus.

Northwestern Wildcats 4-5-2 (1-3 Big Ten)

2020-21 Record: 2-8-1 (2-7-1)

Head coach Russell Payne was a four-year starter in goal to kick off Cirovski’s tenure with the Terrapins back in 1993. His senior season in 1996 saw him pace the ACC in goals against average (0.88) and save percentage (.835), segueing into a successful professional career that featured appearances in the Premier League of Ireland and the MLS. Following his retirement in 2005, Payne began working as an assistant with the Terrapins and was a part of the staff during its two national championship seasons to end the decade.

From 2010 to this past season, Payne was head coach of the Army Black Knights. Although he didn’t guide Army to an NCAA Tournament appearance during his tenure, he does bring tremendous goalie development and recruiting prowess to a Northwestern program that hasn’t made the tournament since 2014.

“You always want to hate your opponent and it’s hard to hate my long lost son in Russell Payne,” Cirovski said. “I’m very delighted that he got this opportunity to coach at Northwestern. We expect a very good team that seems to have bought into Russell’s culture.”

This season, Northwestern had a tougher start to the season losing its first game and drawing in its second before winning two in a row. After that, the Wildcats drew again then lost four consecutive matchups before sparking their two-game win streak they’re on now.

Players to know

Sophomore forward Justin Weiss, 5-foot-9, No. 6 — Weiss is on an absolute tear of late, warranting a lot of attention heading into Friday’s match. The transfer from Colgate has scored in three straight games, leading the team with five goals in his first season in Evanston. Add on two assists and Weiss paces the team with 12 points and will be searching for a fourth goal in as many games.

Graduate student goalkeeper Miha Miskovic, 6-foot-3, No. 1 — Miskovic has added onto his tremendous career with Northwestern under the guidance of the keeper guru Payne. He has allowed just seven goals in eight starts, getting past a tough stretch in mid-September to produce two clean sheets in the past two games. This has helped Miskovic compile a 0.85 goals against average, good for third in the conference.

Junior midfielder Vicente Castro, 5-foot-11, No. 10 — A preseason Big Ten player to watch, Castro has been an excellent surveyor of the midfield this season. The junior has six-point through 780 minutes played, including a two-assist game versus DePaul on Sept. 29, kicking off the Wildcats’ two-game win streak.

Strength

Play in net. Payne’s impact on goalkeepers throughout his coaching career has been one of his most endearing qualities and that has translated in spades during his brief time with the Wildcats. Miskovic has been a solid presence despite the negative record, pitching four shutouts and snatching 26 saves. Graduate student Ethan Bandre has also filled well when his number is called, pitching two shutouts in three starts.

Weakness

Finishing games. A three-game stretch between Sept. 12 and 21 highlighted Northwestern’s most glaring weakness — its inability to finish games. Kicking off a frustrating four-game losing streak against Xavier thanks to an 88th-minute goal, the Wildcats jumped out to early 1-0 leads against both Penn State and Indiana. However, out of the intermission of both games, it ceded two goals in the first six and seven minutes, respectively, leading to a pair of 2-1 losses.

Three things to watch

1. Will the Friday night lights atmosphere get the Terps back on track? It was about as disappointing of an outing we’ve seen from one of the country’s most talented programs. The Terrapins were thoroughly outplayed, forcing a season-low seven shots on offense and playing second fiddle to Wisconsin’s stout defense despite its recent hot streak.

“I think that was a wake up call,” forward Brayan Padilla said. “The whole team has been working really hard ... just trying to refocus and get back to the team we were at the beginning of the season.”

The best way to refocus for most teams wouldn’t be to play in front of one of the most raucous crowds in the country, but it’s exactly the environment the Terps thrive in as they are undefeated at Ludwig this season, outscoring its opponents 11-4.

“It’s great to play in front of them,” defender Alex Nitzl said. “It’s just great to play home and especially like after losing a game, having our own fans and all back and playing at home, I think that’s the perfect timing to win a game again.”

2. How will the defense look? With Brett St. Martin out because of his red card late against Wisconsin and no confirmation on the status of William Kulvik following an ankle injury on Sunday, Maryland’s defense will see some significant changes. Chris Rindov figures to anchor the unit that has allowed just three goals (one penalty kick) since its loss to Georgetown on Sept. 11, with Nitzl or Nick Richardson the most likely candidates to shift to the backline. Additionally, if Kulvik were to sit this one out, expect Kento Abe to fill the void in the right-back position.

3. Will the offensive woes come to an end? The Terps have routinely flexed its depth with ten different goal scorers this season. That versatility across the board set this team to be one of the strongest offensive teams in the country, yet its recent shortcomings in the scoring department have halted those expectations. It has been 258 minutes (2.5 games) since Maryland last scored and a better outlook on the team aspect of moving the offense can help create better opportunities as the season approaches its end.

“Individuals finish off goals, but teams create goals,” Cirovski said. “There’s been many reasons for not putting the ball in the back of the net, but at the same time I have great confidence in our ability to create. Every team goes through a little bit of a learning curve, a toughening period, and I think we’re in that right now and we’ll come out the other side a better team.”