Maryland men’s soccer’s road to the College Cup begins Thursday night in College Park against Fairleigh Dickinson.
The Big Ten Tournament did not end in the Terps’ favor as they lost to Indiana, 2-1, in the semifinals.
Maryland controlled the tempo for the majority of the first half, but Indiana dominated the final 15 minutes. In the 35th minute, redshirt senior forward Ryan Wittenbrink drove through Maryland’s defense and then delivered a beautiful pass to sophomore forward Samuel Sarver. The ball snaked through three defenders before reaching Sarver who tapped it in for the score.
The Hoosiers continued their relentless attack in the following minutes as they rattled off consecutive shots on goal, the third of which reached the back of the net.
Maryland came out of the half aggressive, but was only able to muster up one goal before the final horn sounded.
With over a week of rest under their belt, the Terps have been able to get healthy and prepared for this pivotal game against the Knights. The match will begin at 6 p.m. and be streamed on ESPN Plus.
Fairleigh Dickinson Knights (10-5-3, 6-0-2 NEC)
2021 record: 8-7-3 (6-1-2)
Head coach Seth Roland has been at the helm of FDU’s men’s soccer program for 25 years and knows what it takes to win. He is the winningest coach in program (225-191-65) and NEC history (116-60-37). Roland has also had success in the NCAA Tournament, guiding the Knights to seven appearances and winning six matches during his tenure. This season, FDU has compiled its best record since 2017 and is looking to make the most of its tournament bid.
Players to watch
Hugo Bacharach, junior defender, No. 4 — Bacharach has been one of the Knights’ best players since he joined the team in 2020. He has earned a spot on the All-NEC first team in all three years but has elevated his play to new heights this season. Bacharach took home the NEC Defensive Player of the Year award and has also made contributions on the offensive end with three goals and one assist.
Spencer King, senior goalkeeper, No. 25 — King won the starting job in 2021 and has since developed into one of the best goalkeepers in the nation. He was named the NEC Goalkeeper of the Year after posting 56 saves and a .824 save percentage, which ranks 10th in the nation. Maryland has struggled with its efficiency this season, and King will only make it harder for the Terps to score.
Jordan Alonge, senior midfielder, No. 10 — Alonge is one of the driving forces of a solid FDU offense. He was named to the All-NEC first team for the second year in a row after recording four goals and two assists this season. Alonge attempted a team-high 46 shots this year — 24 more than the rest of his teammates — as he is always looking to score.
Shutting teams out. The Knights’ defense has been impeccable this season outside of a few outlier games. They currently have nine shutouts on the season which ranks sixth in the country. FDU has been prone to allowing goals in bunches, but they are usually rock solid on the defensive end.
Strength of schedule. While the Knights have notched double-digit wins, the difficulty of those wins are questionable. FDU has only faced two opponents that finished inside the United Soccer Coaches top 25 rankings this season: No. 20 Wake Forest and No. 23 Penn. During those matches, FDU surrendered a combined nine goals and could not keep up with the high-level competition.
Three things to watch
1. Maryland is well-rested. After losing in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament, the Terps received a full week of rest. Two of Maryland’s starters, junior defender Alex Nitzl and redshirt sophomore midfielder Josh Suchecki, did not play last Wednesday, so this break comes at a very important time for the Terps. With FDU only receiving three days of rest, it will be interesting to see if the fresher legs prevail.
2. How will Griffin Dillon’s impact affect the Terps? Sophomore midfielder Griffin Dillon received two yellow cards in Maryland’s last match against Indiana, meaning that he will not be eligible to compete against the Knights. Dillon is having a phenomenal season so far, as he ranks fifth on the team in points (10) with three goals and four assists. The return of Nitzl and Suchecki should lighten the blow of Dillon’s absence, but if the Terps lose on Thursday, this may become a what-if scenario.
3. Can Maryland make it out of the first round? It was a bit surprising when the Terps were not awarded a top-16 seed in the NCAA Tournament — which would have given them a first-round bye — after finishing the year as the No. 6-ranked team in the country and winning the Big Ten regular-season title. Nevertheless, Maryland will be playing an NEC team in the first round for the second consecutive year. The Terps lost, 1-0, to LIU last season and have been waiting almost a year to redeem themselves. So the question becomes: can the Terps get the job done this time?