No. 2-seed Maryland men’s soccer headed to a penalty shootout against No. 7-seed Northwestern after neither team could find the back of the net through 110 minutes of action.
Maryland has had its fair share of struggles in the Big Ten tournament over the past few years, and it was a similar story on Sunday as a team they had outshot Maryland by 22 in early October pushed the Terrapins to sudden death penalty kicks.
The Terps took a 2-1 lead through three rounds, but the Wildcats rallied and pushed the Terps to the breaking point in the fifth round. Forward Brayan Padilla stepped up to the box to try and stave off Northwestern’s upset efforts, but his light touch scraped the right post and out of play.
Northwestern’s season stays alive after this one, while Maryland falters under the bright lights and once again comes up short in the Big Ten tournament, losing 0-0 (2-3).
“Our best players were not our best players and our leadership did not come through…” head coach Sasho Cirovski said. “We need to have experienced veteran leaders raise their level of influence on the field.”
The loss stung for a team searching for any sort of spark from its experienced crop of leaders, but Cirovski iterated his confidence in the leadership moving past this difficult loss.
“We have great leadership. We have great young men,” Cirovski said. “This was a challenging game. I knew Northwestern was gonna … make it difficult for us, so credit to Northwestern and we’ll have to bounce back and hopefully get ready for the NCAA [Tournament].”
Maryland looked for a hot start in its opening-round matchup of the Big Ten tournament. Within a minute of action commencing at Ludwig Field, the Terps gained a set-piece via free kick just over midfield.
That pressure continued to build, with the Wildcats failing to get comfortable in the attacking third and the Terrapins initiating multiple set pieces prior to the 10-minute mark.
Maryland began to settle down a bit and search for some gaps, but the relaxed approach gave the Wildcats some life as a 17th-minute corner kick was Northwestern’s first real opportunity at some offensive production.
The tides quickly turned, however, as forward Jacen Russell-Rowe went onto the attack. The sophomore received a breakaway chance against an empty backline, leading to goalkeeper Miha Miskovic coming out of the box and colliding with recovering defender Quinn Dudek.
The collision led to a stoppage to tend to Miskovic, but after he returned to his feet the referee handed out a yellow card for the incidental handball, rewarding Maryland with another set-piece.
Once again, however, the Terps failed to capitalize on a much-improved Northwestern backline from last time out. A back and forth affair commenced, but Northwestern’s offense began to show some life in the 36th minute of play.
A shot from midfielder Collin McCamy was the result of too many men forward from the Terps, but goalkeeper Niklas Neumann made the crucial save to bail out the defense. Another missed chance in the 41st minute from midfielder Joseph Arena highlighted a half that began to unravel for the Terrapin defense.
The Terps led the charge for much of the first period, but overaggressiveness on offense put the defense in a tough spot, leading to the Wildcats evening the playing field a bit.
“I felt we lost the game in the first half, we came out very flat, we allowed Northwestern to gain a lot of confidence,” Cirovski said.
Defender Chris Rindov added, “It’s just got to be more of a complete 90 and that’s really I think the biggest issue from today.”
Maryland has shown time and time again this season that they thrive on coming out of the intermission rejuvenated. A disappointing first period set the stage for the Terps to come out firing, but the opening ten minutes went by with no success on the attack.
Shots from defender Ryan Blumberg and Russell-Rowe failed to find the back of the net, but the chances continued to pile up with a myriad of set pieces going its way.
In the 58th minute, a corner from midfielder Ben Bender found a crowd of Terps. Forward Caden Stafford seemed to be the one to get a foot on the ball, but the save from Miskovic that prompted a replay review swatted away yet another opportunity for the offense to break this one open.
It was a matter of Maryland not coughing up any offensive footing to Northwestern, as the possession arrow was profoundly in favor of the Terrapins with just under 20 minutes remaining in regulation.
There were moments of near catastrophe for Maryland, particularly in the 74th minute with midfielder Paul Son leaking past the defense, but the strong play of Neumann in net kept this match even.
Northwestern responded with equally strong play in net from Miskovic. A handball from defender Deng Deng Kur set Russell-Rowe up for a penalty kick in the 80th minute, but the graduate student made a beautiful diving save to keep the Wildcats’ season alive.
Both defenses were bending at times, but neither broke as the game headed into sudden-death overtime — the fourth such occurrence for the Terrapins on the season.
Northwestern was the aggressor to open the first overtime period, with the Big Ten’s leading goal scorer forward Justin Weiss just missing wide in the 92nd minute. But Neumann continued his fantastic afternoon as he made two huge saves to advance to a second overtime period.
The second overtime period came and went with no action, setting up a nail-biting penalty shootout. Up to this point of the season, Maryland had been 40% on penalty kicks, whereas Northwestern hadn’t attempted one.
It started with the goalkeepers coming up big yet again, with Miskovic and Neumann making the saves in the first round of kicks. A miss from midfielder Vicente Castro at the top of the second round set up Bender to make it 1-0 Maryland.
Three straight makes put the score at 2-2, but defender Brett St. Martin’s miss in the fourth round set Northwestern up to take the lead. Midfielder Rom Brown scored the lead-snatching goal, before Padilla’s shot missed a tad wide to end Maryland’s Big Ten title hopes.
“At the end of the day it’s a sad day and we should be disappointed for the day and you have all the reasons to be, but tomorrow it’s a new day,” Neumann said. “You got to wake up, there’s new challenges and we got to live for that and work for that.”
Three things to know
1. The keepers stole the show. Neumann and Miskovic were the stars on the pitch today with no shortage of highlight moments from the two. Miskovic was the busier of the two, with Maryland getting off 10 shots on goal and forcing the visiting keeper to make 10 saves. Neumann had fewer saves, but his mark on the game was just as enormous as he came in clutch time after time against a Wildcat offense fighting for its season.
“I feel like we both understand our position is a very specific position,” Neumann said. “[Miskovic] played a great game, made some really big saves on the PKs and I got to appreciate that I guess.”
2. Ryan Blumberg could be a part of the rotation moving forward. Blumberg earned his second career start after a career day against Indiana last weekend. He played the entire first half and performed well, showing that the coaching staff believes he can be an asset for the backline in the postseason. His minutes were capped between 50-60 minutes, similar to the Indiana game, but his presence in the rotation could allow Maryland to be much more flexible in the closing days of the season.
3. Another disappointing showing in the Big Ten tournament. While Maryland secured its best seeding the Big Ten tournament since they won in 2016, they couldn’t make it to the championship game yet again following a huge upset at home to Northwestern. It marks the first “loss” (comes up as a tie) of the season at Ludwig for the Terps and it couldn’t have come at a worse time with Maryland teetering on the top-16 line for the NCAA Tournament.
“Hopefully we will have learned a valuable lesson about what postseason is about,” Cirovski said. “We’ll lick our wounds … and we’ll try to rebound.”