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Maryland women’s soccer vs. Northwestern preview

The Terps wrap up a three-game homestand to open up Big Ten play.

Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics

Maryland women’s soccer hosts Northwestern in a Sunday matinee as Big Ten play continues.

“Definitely glad to be Thursday, Sunday home,” Maryland head coach Ray Leone said postgame after Thursday’s matchup against Nebraska. “And then, not waste any time traveling and we [get to] look at the tape of Northwestern and begin working on that.”

The Terps are coming off Thursday night’s 0-0 draw to Nebraska. It was a hard-fought 110 minutes for Maryland, but ultimately it was its second scoreless tie of the season, and third tie overall. Even though it did not get the victory, Maryland was able to secure a result and gain a point in the Big Ten standings.

Sunday’s game is set for a 2 p.m. start and will air on BTN Plus. Let’s take a look at what shapes up to be a solid Northwestern squad.

Northwestern Wildcats (5-4, 1-1 Big Ten)

Spring 2021 record: 6-6-1 (5-6 Big Ten)

Head coach Michael Moynihan is in his 10th season at the helm of the Northwestern women’s soccer program. Moynihan led the Wildcats to four straight NCAA Tournament berths from 2015-18 before hitting a bump in the road in 2019. Including this season, he has compiled an 87-75-26 record at the school. Before arriving in Evanston, Illinois, Moynihan spent 19 years at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, leading the Panthers to 12-straight conference championships.

The Wildcats limped out of the gates, losing three of their first four nonconference matchups. Northwestern has since rebounded, winning four of its last five, including an upset win at then-No. 12 Penn State in its last time outing. Though Northwestern was outplayed on the road, it was able to put in two first-half goals against the Nittany Lions and never look back. Northwestern was tabbed to finish seventh, along with Iowa, in the 2021 Big Ten Women’s Soccer Preseason Poll.

Players to know

Josie Aulicino, sophomore midfielder, No. 8 —Aulicino has been by far and away the Wildcats’ best offensive player this season. Her production is off the charts, leading the team with five goals and six assists. Aulicino’s six assists are tied for the Big Ten lead, and no one else on the team has more than two. It is truly impressive that she can be a major goal scorer while also being the team’s most productive facilitator. The former Big Ten All-Freshman Team selection is also clutch, as four of her goals are game-winners.

Hallie Pearson, senior defender, No. 19 — Pearson has been a rock for Northwestern’s defense since she transferred from Arizona following the 2019 season. She has started all eight games she has played this season, playing full-time in each of the last four. Pearson earned Third Team All-Big Ten honors in the spring for her strong defensive performance.

Mackenzie Wood, senior goalkeeper, No. 1 — It has been a tough start to the season for Wood, who has allowed 13 goals, the most in the Big Ten. Wood has proved to be a capable goalie in her four years with the program, though. She was named to the Big Ten All-Freshman Team in 2018 and was second in the conference in saves per game just two years ago. Playing every minute this season, Wood has allowed 1.43 goals on average and holds a 0.729 save percentage

Strength

Familiarity in close games. In games decided by one goal, the Wildcats hold a solid record of 4-2. Five of those six games have been in the most recent 4-1 stretch for Northwestern. While the Terps also have become adjusted to playing down to the wire, they are 1-1-3 in such games. This could be something to keep an eye on if the game remains tied heading into the final minutes.

Weakness

Generating shots. Through nine games, the Wildcats are dead last in the Big Ten in shots, shots on goal and shots per game. Northwestern only has 90 shots this season. For reference, Michigan, who leads the conference in the stat, has 213 shots in the same amount of games. The Maryland defense has been tough as of late, so the Wildcats may have an even tougher time getting shots off Sunday.

Three things to watch

1. Maryland is almost back to full strength. Star forward Alyssa Poarch’s return to the lineup was long-awaited for Maryland ahead of Thursday’s game against Nebraska. The Terps’ leading goal scorer — Poarch is tied with forwards Kori Locksley and Emily McNesby with two goals — only registered one shot against the Cornhuskers, and looked like she needed some time to get her legs back underneath her after not playing since Aug. 22. McNesby also returned for the first time since Sept. 2, playing 31 minutes off the bench. However, the Terps are still missing star defender Adalee Broadbent, and when she will return is unclear.

2. Can the Terps’ strong goalkeeping continue? Ever since goalkeeper Madeline Smith was cleared to play on Sept. 9 against Penn, she and starting goalkeeper Liz Brucia have split time. It has been so far, so good for the Terps. Both goalies are extremely capable in the net, and Leone has mentioned using the tandem as a way to always keep both ready. Since the two started splitting time, the Terps are 0-2-2 and the tandem has posted one clean sheet. Regardless of that record, this should be looked at as a positive for Maryland.

3. Can Maryland finish its opening Big Ten stretch strong? The Terps’ Big Ten schedule was constructed so they would play its first three conference games at home and then not return until Oct. 14. While Maryland may not have earned the results it wanted in the first couple of games, it has a chance to salvage the homestand with a win against Northwestern. Four points in the first full week of Big Ten play could do a lot for the Terps’ conference tournament hopes.