Maryland men’s soccer has been plagued by first-half woes all season long, often relying on second-half adjustments to bail it out. Two of its threes losses this season have come as a result of poor first-half performances, but things were different Thursday night in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament against Fairleigh Dickinson.
Maryland was decisive in the early going, as redshirt senior Nick Richardson’s cross led to a goal under two minutes into the match.
Less than eight minutes later, the Terps were back on the board as leading scorer and senior midfielder Malcolm Johnston drilled a free kick into the top right corner of the net.
A quick 2-0 lead, along with three more goals, was to much for FDU to overcome as Maryland upended the night the Knights, 5-2, in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
The Terps’ win sets up a second-round matchup at No. 14-seed Cornell Sunday.
“Tonight you saw an inspired performance by our team. We had a great week of preparation, and we came out flying,” head coach Sasho Cirovski said. “So overall, terrific performance and now we’re ready for the challenge this weekend.”
Despite the sub-40 degrees Fahrenheit weather, the Terps began the half with a sense of urgency and a clear gameplan.
It only took one minute and 45 seconds for the Terps to get on the board as redshirt senior Nick Richardson collected the ball just outside of the box and flicked it into the box. Freshman forward Colin Griffith kept the ball in-bounds with a beautiful header, which junior forward Stefan Copetti drilled into the net with his foot.
Griffith continued to use his upper body as his first shot on goal was a header toward the top right corner of the net. FDU senior goalkeeper Spencer King made the stop this time, however, snatching the ball out of the air.
King’s save only halted the Terps for a few minutes, though, as they got right back on the board in the 10th minute. After redshirt Joshua Bolma got fouled at the edge of the box, Maryland lined up for a free kick.
The Terps have been working on their free kicks throughout practice this week, and it paid off. Freshman defender Luca Costabile lightly tapped the ball to Bolma, who teed it up for senior midfielder Malcolm Johnston.
Johnston took three big steps before booting the ball into the top right corner of the net, giving Maryland a comfortable 2-0 lead.
The Terps continued to dominate possession as Griffith rattled off another shot on goal in the 18th minute, but it was yet again saved by King.
Maryland’s third and final goal of the half came in the 26th minute. The ball was batted around before Johnston delivered a beautiful heel-flick pass to freshman midfielder Albi Ndrenika deep in the box. Ndrenika snaked the ball right through King’s legs for the first goal of his career.
“And to the back-heel, if I was not coaching FDU I would’ve been applauding,” FDU head coach Seth Roland said.
Neither team could get much going in the final 19 minutes of the first half and Maryland entered halftime with a 3-0 lead.
Things got chippy in the second half, as five yellow cards were handed out in the first 15 minutes — four to FDU and one to Maryland.
FDU freshman forward Matt Giraldo went on to score two goals in the second half, but it was too little, too late for Giraldo and the Knights as Maryland defeated FDU, 5-2.
Three things to know
1. The Terps looked fresh. After an eight-day layover between games, Maryland was well-rested and prepared for the Knights. The Terps dominated the ball in the first half, holding 66% of the possession total and scoring three goals. Coming out of the intermission, Maryland played a bit more conservative but still matched FDU in goals, 2-2. With their next game in only three days, the Terps will need to get some rest and play with the same level of energy.
“We got a lot of key pieces back like Joe and Alex in the midfield [and] it really helped today,” Johnston said. “I think we’re just going to continue to grow [and] we showed our depth tonight.”
2. Hunter George had limited playing time. Senior forward Hunter George has been a staple in Maryland’s offense all season long but did not play much against FDU. George started in all 18 of the Terps previous matches — logging the eighth-most minutes on the team — but came off the bench Thursday night and only played 15 minutes. Despite this, Maryland had one of its best offensive games of the season, scoring five goals against a solid FDU defense.
“The way things went in training, some guys were in good places, sharp spots,” Cirovski said. “Hunter’s played a lot of minutes this year and I felt today was better...for him to come off the bench and he certainly came in and made an impact right away.”
3. The Terps are moving on. For the first time since 2019, Maryland will advance to the second round of the NCAA Tournament. After getting upset by LIU in the first round last year, the Terps got revenge on the Sharks’ conference rivals, defeating FDU in comfortable fashion. Up next for Maryland is No. 14-seed Cornell, which it will play Sunday in Ithaca, New York.