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No. 1-seed Maryland men’s soccer Big Ten Tournament first-round preview: No. 8-seed Northwestern

The Terps hold the No. 1 seed for the first time in six seasons.

Photo courtesy of Chris Lyons/Maryland Athletics

No. 7 Maryland men’s soccer ended its regular season on Sunday with a 1-1 draw against Indiana. The draw secured the Terps’ spot as Big Ten regular-season champions, which garnered them the No. 1 seed in the Big Ten Tournament.

Maryland was down 1-0 for the majority of the game after Indiana redshirt senior forward Ryan Wittenbrink scored a goal in the 25th minute.

The Terps seemed out of sorts and a bit rattled by the hostile environment but refused to quit. With under four minutes remaining, junior forward Stefan Copetti headed in a perfect pass from redshirt sophomore forward Joshua Bolma to erase the deficit.

Maryland’s defense held strong through the final minutes of the match as the Terps walked away with their first trophy since 2018.

“It was awesome to see the smile on our players’ faces to celebrate winning a trophy,” head coach Sasho Cirovski said. “Our players come here to win trophies and we haven’t done so in the last three years.”

As the No. 1 seed, the Big Ten Tournament will run through College Park and it all starts on Friday night against Northwestern. The match will begin at 7 p.m. and be streamed on Big Ten Plus.

What happened last time

Maryland already played the Wildcats once this season on Oct. 9. The Terps traveled to Northwestern and did not play their best on the road. They tied Northwestern, which was the worst team in the Big Ten at the time, at one apiece.

Neither team was able to create much offense through the first half as they relied on their goalkeepers to keep them afloat.

Senior goalkeeper Niklas Neumann made his first save of the game in the 19th minute when he dove right to snatch Northwestern senior defender Jason Cyrus’ shot out of the air.

Northwestern graduate student goalkeeper Christian Garner made his second save of the half in the 44th minute, barely tipping Copetti’s header over the crossbar.

The second half brought more action, though, as both teams got on the board. The Wildcats took the lead in the 61st minute as first-year forward Christopher Thaggard tapped in a ball that sat right in front of the net.

Maryland responded about 13 minutes later when Copetti finally scored on his fourth shot of the game. The junior muscled through defenders to head redshirt senior Nick Richardson’s cross over Garner and into the net.

Neither team was able to score for the rest of the game as the tie marked the beginning of a three-game winless streak from the Terps.

What has happened since

Maryland followed up the match against Northwestern with another tie against Wisconsin, which was the second-worst team in the Big Ten at the time.

As if things could not get any worse, Maryland lost to High Point in its next game. Tensions were high and frustration poured out of Cirovski and the Terps.

“I’m beyond frustrated with the result. Once again, we gifted the first goal [and] allowed High Point to develop confidence,” Cirovski said after the game.

One of High Point’s scores was an own goal from sophomore defender William Kulvik, which ended up being the difference as Maryland lost, 2-1.

However, Kulvik redeemed himself in a crucial match against Michigan State just four days later. The sophomore scored the Terps’ only goal and helped hold Michigan State to zero shot attempts, the first time Maryland had done so in 16 years. Kulvik brought home the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week honor for his performance, his second of the year.

The Terps ran through Delaware, 4-1, the following Tuesday as all they could think about was Sunday’s match against Indiana. After Copetti saved the day with a heroic goal in the 86th minute, Maryland was crowned Big Ten regular-season champions.

Northwestern had much success following its impressive performance against the No. 8 ranked team in the country.

The Wildcats finished out the regular season with a 2-2-1 record, including a pivotal win over Michigan State. This match propelled Northwestern past Michigan in the Big Ten standings to claim the final spot in the Big Ten Tournament.

Now holding a 3-8-5 record, the Wildcats are confident they can beat Maryland this time around.

Three things to watch

1. Can Copetti stay hot? Copetti has scored in four of the Terps’ last six games and has been a major contributor in their recent hot streak. As a result, Copetti was named Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week on Tuesday, the first time he has received the honor in his career. With postseason play here, Maryland needs Copetti to continue his elite level of play.

“He’s been coming up big time,” Bolma said. “Moving forward we’re gonna need his presence.”

2. Can the Terps use Ludwig Field to their advantage? Ludwig Field and Maryland’s faithful fans provide one of the best atmospheres in all of college sports. “The Crew” — a group of Maryland’s die-hard soccer fans — provide a hostile environment for opposing teams, goalkeepers especially, and a rush of energy when the Terps need it most. Maryland was unable to get the job done against Northwestern on the road early this season, but the fans could be the difference the Terps need.

“I don’t know if any other school has the fan base we have,” junior defender Alex Nitzl said. “The Crew’s gonna be here. They’re gonna bring everything they have and we’re going to bring it, and I think this combination is dangerous.”

3. Can Maryland get its revenge? Big Ten play ended in disappointing fashion for the Terps last season as No. 7-seed Northwestern upended No. 2-seed Maryland. Regulation ended in a 0-0 draw, which forced two overtime periods and then a penalty shootout. The Wildcats outlasted the Terps in the shootout, 3-2, leaving Maryland with a first-round exit. The Terps were unable to get their revenge in the regular season this year but have another opportunity Friday.