Facing a one goal deficit in the closing moments of the game, Maryland women’s soccer head coach Meg Ryan Nemzer made her most aggressive changes of the season, sending in five attackers in a desperate effort to get to Minnesota’s goal.
Needing an equalizer to hold onto any chance of a postseason appearance, the Terps played with a desperation not seen this season, but came up just short, in a heartbreaking 2-1 defeat in their 2022 home finale.
Despite the math being against the Terps, Nemzer, a 15 year veteran of the Big Ten conference, wants her players to know that anything is possible and every game is a new opportunity.
“We gotta obviously hope for other things to happen, but we just got to worry about ourselves. We talk about how it’s not about anybody else and is always about us. Continue to have individual moments of greatness and continue to get one percent better,” Nemzer said.
At 2-8-5, Maryland will finish off the season with two games on the road, first against Indiana on Thursday before concluding the season at Purdue.
“The next two games are about Maryland. The next two games are about making sure we are inspiring the next class, inspiring the youth,” Nemzer added.
After a game Thursday night in which the opening ten minutes saw the Terps concede three times, it was an encouraging sign as Maryland played with good energy in the beginning stages of Sunday’s game.
But yet again, for the fourth straight game, it saw the opposition get on the scoresheet first — and early.
In the 10th minute, Minnesota took the first of its two looks at goal of the half emphatically, as graduate midfielder Megan Gray sent a cross toward junior forward Sophia Romine, who scored an incredible volley.
Down 1-0 and having gone two weeks without a goal, there was a considerable silence in and around Ludwig Field as the first half continued into its later stages.
That silence quickly went away in the 28th minute, though, as Maryland junior midfielder Juliana Lynch sent a through ball past three Minnesota defenders and into the feet of a streaking Alyssa Poarch.
The graduate attacker, who has spent six years at the program and leads the team in shots this year, took the chance in her final game at home with a purpose, flying in on goal and firing a shot into the top corner of the net.
“It’s my last game here and I’m glad that I ended it off with a bang and can leave my mark here,” Poarch said.
Poarch used her speed to her advantage throughout the opening half, a deadly quality of hers.
The Terps looked poised to go into the half with the game evened up for the first time in four games, but an unforgivable mistake in front of goal cost them with just 16 seconds remaining.
Graduate defender Gabbie Cesarone, who leads the Gophers in goals and is the most dangerous aerial threat in front of goal in the conference, was left wide open in front of senior goalie Maddie Smith for an easy header.
The free kick goal is familiar territory for Minnesota, as it has scored nine of its 24 goals this year from set pieces.
Two shots on goal — both of which found the back of the net — for Minnesota in the first half stuck a dagger in the Terps headed into the latter 45 minutes.
“I still think there’s things that we need to be better about in the back line,” Nemzer said.
Knowing its season was on the line in the second half, with a loss all but eliminating Maryland from Big Ten Tournament contention, a lot of desperation showed early and often as the second-half whistle blew.
That desperation showed in the form of long ball after long ball, with graduate forward Mikayla Dayes and Poarch trying to use their speed to link up every few minutes.
The latter found herself on a break with just one defender back twice to start the half, but was just beaten out on both occasions.
While the chances kept coming and the Terps dominated in possession, they just couldn’t find the back of the net and frustration started to set in.
“We fought today, and you saw it. Unfortunately it wasn’t enough but the effort was there today,” Poarch said.
A 67th minute in-air challenge by junior midfielder Catherine DeRosa, the unspoken leader and captain of the team, was penalized for the Terps’ second yellow card of the day and their conference-leading 25th card of the season.
Allowing just one shot on goal in the second half, Maryland pushed for an equalizer, but despite dominating possession late, Minnesota clogged the 18-yard box and prevented the Terps from registering a shot on target of their own.
The heartbreaking loss is the seventh straight for the Terps in what has proven to be a tough season of growing pains for the newly-built squad.
When asked what message she wants to leave to the supporters after her team’s seventh straight loss, Nemzer, with tears streaming down her face, spoke to the togetherness and the culture the program will continue to build on.
“You’re going to see a team that is going to be a family and has a lot of Maryland pride. A team that is going to continue to inspire the next generation and that is going to have this grittiness and this fight to them with a never, ever give up mentality,” she said. “But I think the biggest thing is you’re gonna see a team that competes for each other, and a team that knows what we can do here and a team that will continue to bring you a lot of pride.”
Three things to know
1. The Terps continue to concede. Nemzer is known as a defensive-minded coach, but it has been tough sledding on the defensive side of the ball for her team over the past five games, in which they’ve now allowed at least two goals in each contest.
2. A desperate, yet dominant, second-half performance just wasn’t enough. The Terps competed unbelievably hard in the second half, with continuous runs from their speedy attack, but the final touch just wouldn’t come. Ultimately not being able to hit the target once in the final 45 minutes of the game, the theme of a lack of goal-scoring continued Sunday in the most heartbreaking of ways.
3. A disappointing Ludwig finale. Although the overall performance was much better than the last three games, timely errors and a lack of composure in the final third held the Terps back Sunday. Despite holding the advantage in possession and allowing just three shots on goal, Minnesota took its opportunities while Maryland failed to. With a chance to provide some joy to the home fans in the midst of a tough stretch, the Terps came up just short.