After falling to a 2-0 deficit in Piscataway, New Jersey on Tuesday afternoon, No. 8 Maryland men’s soccer locked in to protect its place atop the Big Ten standings.
Senior forward Hunter George started the rally in the 25th minute, but didn’t receive much support as Maryland was still down 2-1 heading into the second half.
Head coach Sasho Cirovski made some minor adjustments, and all of the sudden the Terps were off. Senior midfielder Malcolm Johnston officially deflated Rutgers’ once-daunting lead with an impressive bicycle-kick goal to even the score.
With under 20 minutes left to play, Johnston found a wide-open man. It was redshirt senior defender Nick Richardson, who put the Terps up, 3-2, finishing off the comeback and securing Maryland’s third consecutive win.
“This was a fantastic win by any measure, you know. We played well in the first half and I think they scored two goals on two chances,” Cirovski said. “I can’t say enough about the leadership of our team in this game and the effort that the guys put in.”
Rutgers and Maryland came into the day as the two highest-scoring teams in the Big Ten, and the first five minutes showed why.
Johnston, the lone goal scorer in Maryland’s previous match against Old Dominion, kick-started the game with a bullet toward the bottom right corner of the net, but sophomore goalkeeper Aurie Briscoe got there in time to make the save.
The Scarlet Knights proceeded to move the ball down the field and into Maryland territory. The Terps’ backline extinguished Rutgers’ attack as they blocked senior forward MD Myers’ first shot of the game.
Things got chippy as the first half ramped up. Yellow cards were handed out to Rutgers senior defender Hugo Le Guennec, sophomore defender Joey Zalinsky and Maryland freshman defender Luca Costabile, all of which were for unsportsmanlike behavior.
An offensive outburst followed, as a combined three goals were scored in under five minutes. Myers led the way with a goal in the 20th minute off a Maryland throw-in. The goal was assisted by junior midfielder Jason Bouregy as Myers lifted the ball over the head of senior goalkeeper Niklas Neumann.
Another Scarlet Knights goal followed, increasing Rutgers’ lead to two. The Scarlet Knights lined up for a corner kick, but their initial attempt failed as Maryland redirected the ball out of the box. That’s when graduate student midfielder Pablo Avila rifled the ball into the bottom right corner of the net.
Down by a pair of goals, George jumpstarted the Terps’ comeback. After dribbling through Rutgers’ defense, he swung his leg back and sent the ball toward the goal. The shot initially looked off target, but it curved into the top left corner of the net as George secured his second goal of the year from 25 yards out.
Junior forward Stefan Copetti and junior defender Alex Nitzl applied some pressure in the 29th minute, but Nitzl’s shot was no good.
The rest of the first half was relatively uneventful. Rutgers was able to fire off six shots in the first 45 minutes, compared to Maryland’s five.
Neumann recorded his first save of the game in the 49th minute as he scooped up Rutgers freshman forward Ian Abbey’s shot with ease.
Seven free kicks were granted over the next 10 minutes, but neither team was able to capitalize on its opportunities.
Maryland officially crawled out of its 2-0 hole in the 63rd minute. Johnston received a pass from redshirt senior defender Nick Richardson and made an incredible play. The senior jumped up for a bicycle kick and booted the ball over his head into the bottom left corner of the net for his fifth goal of the season — his first from open play.
The Scarlet Knights answered with three straight shots, but the Terps held their ground.
Maryland’s impeccable comeback was capped off in the 73rd minute when the Terps took their first lead of the game on Richardson’s goal.
The Terps held on from there, stifling the Scarlet Knights and winning, 3-2, to improve to 3-0-1 in the Big Ten and 7-1-2 overall.
Three things to know
1. The match was an offensive masterpiece. From bicycle kicks to 25-yarders, Tuesday’s game had it all. The matchup between two elite offenses provided a show early. Rutgers was the first team to get on the board as it scored two goals in the span of two minutes. Maryland fired back three minutes later and never gave up. Johnston converted on his first non-penalty goal of the season, and Richardson took the lead with his third career goal. The Terps tallied their second highest goal total of the season, while Rutgers has scored multiple goals in two straight games.
“We were just a little bit sharper than we usually [are], but that’s what its going to take for the rest of this season,” Richardson said. “To be a great team you have to make great opportunity of your chances and that’s what we did today, even though it was a really challenging day to do that.”
2. Neumann is back. After missing four consecutive games, Neumann returned to the pitch against Rutgers. There was no time to ease Neumann back into competitive play as the Scarlet Knights went at him early and often. He did concede back-to-back goals in the first half, but he picked it up in the second half. Neumann recorded two saves as Maryland held Rutgers scoreless in the final 68-plus minutes of the game.
“I thought [Niklas] was really good. I didn’t think he had any chance on both of their goals,” Cirovski said. “We were worried he might be a little rusty from being out coming off his injury, but he was great.”
3. Maryland converted when it mattered. As expected, Rutgers matched the Terps’ level of intensity, attempting 13 shots, four of which were on target. Despite scoring three goals, Maryland did not have as many opportunities as the Scarlet Knights, but made the most of them. The Terps had nearly half the shot attempts of Rutgers, seven, but scored three of them, a trend that has become prevalent over the last few games.
“We’ve been working on becoming a little more efficient with our attack and our shooting because as the season progresses you’ll get fewer and fewer opportunities. Teams become more organized and they scout...you have to become more efficient,” Cirovski said. “It doesn’t matter how many shots you had, it’s the ones that go in the goal that count.”