Maryland men’s soccer had to scratch and claw to try and get the offense moving against a tough Long Island team in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
While it seemed to be breaking through with 10 minutes to go in regulation, LIU broke off down the far side of the pitch. In the blink of an eye, forward Assane Ben Fall ripped a shot from the corner of the box, finding the back of the net as the Maryland backline held its hands over its heads in disbelief.
“This a cruel game,” head coach Sasho Cirovski said. “When you don’t do your part against a team that packs it in, you always run the risk of giving one up on the counter.”
It was a shocking end to a game that seemed all but certain to be heading into extra time. With so little time for a rebuttal, the clock ran out before Maryland could get off an equalizer as the Long Island Sharks pulled off the massive upset on the road to advance.
Maryland hadn’t lost a home game the entire season, but it couldn’t recover from an uninspiring first half en route to a 1-0 defeat in College Park on Thursday night.
“Needless to say this is a crushing loss today,” Cirovski said. “I felt like we never had the killer instinct. We were controlling the entire game ... you have to give them credit they made the one play that mattered.”
Maryland looked to get off on the right foot after its 11-day hiatus from the pitch. Just over a minute into the match, forward Hunter George got a shot on goal, leading to a corner opportunity for the Terps.
While the intensity was there, the execution was a tad off. Maryland had a handful of sloppy moments in the opening few minutes. Those didn’t translate too many chances for Long Island, but it put a lid on Maryland’s effort on offense.
Furthermore, the rain began to pick up in the 14th minute, putting a halt on much offensive momentum from either side.
There was a glimpse at breaking through for the Terrapins in the 24th minute with an excellent through ball to George, but the slippery conditions caused George to mishandle the feed.
A few more set pieces came up empty for the Terps, while LIU chose an alternative route — booming the ball down the field and hoping to beat the backline in a foot race.
With forward Emil Jaaskelainen — the second-leading goal scorer in the country — at its disposal, the Sharks tried to optimize his scoring prowess in worsening conditions.
But Maryland’s backline held strong, maintaining its stronghold on the time of possession. The Terps defense went into the half having not allowed a single shot attempt, but the offense didn’t fare much better despite collecting five corner kicks and three shots on goal.
The first half struggles seen from time to time this season came to the forefront of this otherwise one-sided affair. While the match was in Maryland’s favor due to the poise of its defense in the difficult conditions, the offense failed to gain much momentum in the first 45 minutes.
“We did not put enough pressure on their goal with quality crosses, with quality runs, with quality shots,” Cirovski said. “Things that we’ve been doing in training and looking quite sharp did not come to fruition.”
Midfielder Malcolm Johnston, who made his return to the pitch after spending nearly a month recovering from a concussion, added, “I feel like in the first half there was nothing really there, we just were lacking the final piece.”
The Sharks finally began to turn it up as Jaaskelainen broke through for LIU’s first shot attempt in the 52nd minute.
Seven minutes later and a slip up from defender Chris Rindov left Jaaskelainen with another look, but goalkeeper Niklas Neumann came up with the tough deflection before the second effort from the feared goal scorer hit the top crossbar.
Maryland got away with one and suddenly this turned into an even-toed matchup as the clock continued to wind down without a score.
There just wasn’t any momentum built by either team in this one. Throughout the middle of the second half, Maryland and LIU traded possessions as they tried to breakthrough.
An 81st-minute free-kick sent in by midfield David Kovacic found the head of defender Brett St. Martin, but it sailed a bit wide. On the ensuing LIU possession, too many men forward for the Terps seemed to spell trouble on the other end, but the backline caught up to the speeding Sharks to corral any threat.
An 83rd minute shot from defender William Kulvik went wide left before Maryland’s 11th corner kick set up forward Jacen Russell-Rowe with a beautiful header. The Terps kept on getting chances as the end of regulation approached, but it was NEC Goalkeeper of the Year getting the big save, leading to Ben Fall’s game-winning goal.
A promising season came to an abrupt end for the Terrapins as this makes it back-to-back seasons with an NCAA Tournament loss in the first round.
“I’m gutted by the result, but we’ll be back next year and we’ll get past this point,” Johnston said.
Three things to know
1. Maryland’s defense contained Jaaskelainen and the LIU offense. It took 52 minutes for the Sharks to get off its first shot of the game, but even that attempt was denied by a stout Maryland backline. Jaaskelainen’s shot was deflected by defender Brett St. Martin and although the nation’s second-leading goal scorer began to get off some looks thereafter, it was no match for the Terrapins defense. The rest of LIU’s offense was nonexistent in the first half and early in the second half as Jaaskelainen remained the only Shark to get off a shot. But, the Sharks answered with a goal soon after. LIU finished with five shots and the lone goal was enough to beat Maryland’s otherwise solid defense.
2. Maryland’s poor start eventually determined its fate. The Terps were locked with the Sharks at the end of the first half, but their inability to score in the first 45 minutes was ultimately a big reason as to why they fell on Thursday night. Maryland rattled off five shots in the opening half, however, it was unable to slip one past the Sharks to cash in. The inability to break through began to build up LIU’s confidence, leading to the abrupt finish.
“We allowed them to grow into the game and develop a sense of confidence that they could steal one,” Cirovski said. “We lacked the technical executive and decision-making to solve problems.”
The Terps were shut out after 90 minutes, marking just the fifth time this season that they didn’t score after full time.
3. The Terps fall in the first round of the NCAA Tournament for the second consecutive time. During the spring season, Maryland fell to Missouri State, 1-2, late and now, it conceded the late goal to LIU as the Sharks walked away with the victory. Those sets of heartbreakers are a far cry from the debut seasons for Brayan Padilla, Justin Gielen and Brett St. Martin who were apart of the 2018 national championship team. This could have potentially been the final time they stepped onto Ludwig Field in a Maryland jersey if they choose not to use their extra year of eligibility.