Off of a turnover in the midfield by Northwestern, the No. 12 Maryland men’s soccer team was on the move just three minutes into the second period.
Forward Caden Stafford led the charge, feeding a through ball to midfielder Ben Bender. The spring standout then found forward Jacen Russell-Rowe chugging along down the middle. After gathering the possession, Russell-Rowe fired a fierce curving shot for the score, leaving the Wildcat defense disheveled over the stunning development by Maryland’s transition offense.
Maryland’s offensive showcase in the first half was a sight for sore eyes after struggling for much of the past two weeks and that continued into the second half of play as the Terps secured a much-needed bounce back victory, 3-1.
“Well that was more like Maryland soccer,” head coach Sasho Cirovski said. “We asked our guys to bring back their identity which I felt like we lost over the last couple of games.”
The Terrapins were coming off of a deflated effort against Wisconsin, dropping them four spots down the United Soccer Coaches poll and down to third in the Big Ten standings.
While the defense for Maryland has shown its stripes over this difficult stretch, the offense has faltered after a hot start to the season. A return to Friday night lights at Ludwig Field presented an opportune moment for the team to right the ship.
They came out with tremendous drive, forcing in three shots in the opening ten minutes, all blocked by Northwestern’s backline.
While the Terps were clearly the more aggressive team to start, Northwestern exploited Maryland’s lingering ball control issues.
In the 14th minute, defender Chris Rindov mishandled the ball, leading to defender Vicente Castro swiping the ball and putting a sliding attempt past goalkeeper Niklas Neumann for the first goal of the game.
Despite the miscue, Maryland looked to capitalize quickly. In the 17th minute, forward Hunter George set up Russell-Rowe with beautiful placement for the header, but goalkeeper Miha Miskovic snagged the attempt, keeping the Wildcats in front.
George then set up Russell-Rowe again two minutes later, but the sophomore’s shot sailed wide left as Maryland’s sixth shot attempt failed to generate an equalizer.
The Terps continued to keep the pressure on the Wildcat defense, as a hand ball just outside the box led to a free kick chance from midfielder Malcolm Johnston that rose above the bar and out of play.
In the 31st minute, another shot from the Terrapins was high and off target, this time off of a great feed from Bolma down the left side to a wide open Bender in the middle.
After getting off a season-low seven shots in its last outing, the Terrapins weren’t shy with its chances, but just one shot on goal on eight attempts highlighted an inaccurate approach to its game plan.
All of the missed opportunities were finally avenged, however, in the 35th minute. Forward Brayan Padilla sent in a phenomenal ball to a flurry of Terps, ultimately finding the head of Gielen and sending Ludwig into a frenzy.
The senior’s header found the bottom right corner of the net and broke a forgettable 267 minute scoring drought for Maryland — dating back to its matchup against Ohio State on Sept. 24.
Aside from an early goal ceded due to general sloppiness from the backline, Maryland played one of its most balanced halves in some time, firing 11 shot attempts and limiting Northwestern to just three.
That intensity continued in the closing period, as the Terrapins got off to a quick start with a 49th minute goal via Russell-Rowe.
Maryland had dictated the pace of the game up to this point, but Northwestern began to pick it up a bit with a shot by Castro that Neumann had to lay out to save and fend off a tying goal from the visitors.
The threat from Northwestern was short lived, however, as Stafford nearly made it three for the Terps in the 58th minute. The freshman broke away from the packed-in defense to get a shot off on the left, but Miskovic thwarted away the strike. That deflection landed near George’s sweet spot, but a delayed reaction left Maryland without a score as the Wildcats breathed a sigh of relief.
The hits just kept on coming in the 67th minute, as the trio of Stafford, Bolma and Padilla were poetry in motion with its precision passing, only for Padilla’s shot to be sent out of play from Miskovic — his sixth save of the evening.
High drama then ensued in a huge end to end momentum shift with just over ten minutes left. Midfielder Bardia Kimiavi was able to sneak past the Terrapin defense and lure Neumann out of net. With an open net, Kimiavi sought the equalizer, but he failed to get a shot off as the defense collapsed on the pesky senior.
That defensive stand by the Terrapins segued into Northwestern’s defense breaking down, leading to Padilla getting off a clean look at goal that was sent away via handball from defender Quinn Dudek.
Dudek was sent off, initiating an 11-on-10 match the rest of the way and giving Maryland a third goal off of the penalty kick from Johnston.
After struggling to get the offense moving as of late, the Terps compiled its highest scoring mark since its matchup against UMBC on Aug. 29, helping lead them to its eighth win of the year.
Three things to know
1. Maryland showed its potential. Since a flawless first half performance against Ohio State, the Terrapins have not been the same team. They have been strong on defense since the 2-1 victory in Columbus, but its offense was nonexistent over the past two games. Putting both elements together for a full 90 minutes has been on its mind since kicking off conference play and that potential on both sides of the ball showed its true colors against Northwestern.
“We really put them on their heels from the jump in both halves,” forward Justin Gielen said. “I think that when your team is playing against a good opponent, the next thing to come out is that edge. Iron sharpens iron and we’re gonna come against that coming up in the season, so it’s good to get that practice.”
A +22 shot disparity was the best of the season for the Terrapins. That jolt of energy on offense coupled with a defense without a key leader in defender Brett St. Martin made for a top to bottom showcase of Maryland’s prowess.
2. This one put the Terrapins back on the radars of the other top teams in the nation. Still a top-15 team in the country, Maryland showed a glaring weakness over its past two matchups. The offense looked lost at times against Rutgers and Wisconsin and in parts of its victories against Ohio State and Michigan, but tonight’s effort officially put them back on the radar. In front of The Crew, Maryland tallied 26 shots, including 10 on goal, which helped define a dominant showing versus a solid defensive team in Northwestern.
“The crowd was electric. It always gets me pumped up to play,” Bender said. “I think this was our last Friday game, and we wanted to give it all for them.”
3. The Terps are back on top in the Big Ten for now. With the victory, Maryland finds itself back on top of the Big Ten standings. With 10 points through five conference games, the Terrapins leapfrogged Wisconsin and Penn State, but that may not hold past the weekend. The Nittany Lions square off against Michigan on Sunday. With a 3-0 record, a fourth win would put Penn State at 12 points, whereas a Michigan victory would leave them tied with the Terrapins. Wisconsin on the other hand started its matchup against Ohio State at the same time as Maryland-Northwestern and a win from the Badgers would make it a tie at the top of the table.