With the score knotted at zero, No. 1-seed Maryland men’s soccer was on the verge of a second straight first-round upset to No. 8-seed Northwestern in the Big Ten Tournament.
Head coach Sasho Cirovski knew the team needed a spark, so he elected to substitute freshman forward Colin Griffith into the game to begin the second half. The Terps constantly pressured Northwestern goalkeeper Christian Garner throughout the second half, but were not able to break through.
However, Griffith ended the scoring drought in the 76th minute. Senior midfielder Malcolm Johnston crossed the ball into the goal area and got Garner out of position. With a Northwestern defender on his hip, Griffith was able to slide through the defense and tap the ball in for the lead.
His goal was the only one that the Terps needed, as they won, 1-0, to advance to the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament. Maryland will host Indiana on Wednesday with a trip to the conference title game on the line.
“We got off to a little bit of a slow start,” Cirovski said. “But the second half was all us. That was more like Maryland soccer.”
In their regular season match against Northwestern, the Terps struggled to create much offensive in the first half. So, starting out with a high level of intensity was heavily emphasized in the week leading up to Friday’s match.
While their energy was prevalent, the Terps played much of the first 10 minutes on their side of the pitch.
Senior goalkeeper Niklas Neumann got involved early and often in the match. The keeper’s first save of the game came in the ninth minute when he dove to his right to stop a slow-roller from reaching the back of the net.
His name was called again in the 12th minute as Northwestern graduate midfielder Bardia Kimiavi drove into the 18-yard box with a purpose. Kimiavi fired a line drive toward the top right corner of the net, but Neumann fully extended to make another impressive save.
Maryland’s first shot of the game came in the 24th minute when senior forward Hunter George booted a cross into the box. Junior forward Stefan Copetti was able to get under it and head the ball, but his shot sailed over the net.
The Terps’ offense got into a grove following Copetti’s shot, though, as they created multiple opportunities before the first half ended.
Redshirt sophomore forward Joshua Bolma attempted Maryland’s first shot on goal in the 31st minute as he tried to sneak the ball into the net. However, Garner was there to make the save.
The Terps were met with their best opportunity of the half just 30 seconds after Bolma’s shot when Johnston lined up for a penalty kick. Johnston was a perfect 4-4 from the spot heading into the match, and Garner did all he could to get Johnston out of his rhythm.
The keeper took an abnormally long water break which lasted for about a minute as the whole stadium impatiently stared him down. Garner’s mind games seemed to work, as Johnston’s kick rattled off the crossbar and back into the field of play.
The final 15 minutes of the first half were uneventful as each team entered the intermission with hopes of a more successful second half.
The Terps came out of halftime aggressive and were awarded a corner kick in the 47th minute. George booted the ball into the box, where Copetti towered over his defender and headed the ball at the net. Garner took one step to his right and scooped up Copetti’s shot with ease, keeping the score tied at zero.
In the 62nd minute, Maryland was awarded another penalty kick, and this time head coach Sasho Cirovski elected to give Bolma a chance to take the lead. However, he too scuffed the kick and sent it directly at Garner as the Terps came up empty once again.
Maryland continued to pressure Garner, as freshman midfielder Albi Ndrenika and George each had shots on goal, but both were saved.
Griffith finally broke through in the 76th minute as he scored the lone goal of the game and helped the Terps advance to the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament.
Three things to know
1. The Terps could not convert on countless opportunities. For the first time this year, Maryland was awarded two penalty kicks, and also for the first time Maryland missed a penalty kick. In fact, the Terps missed both. This was the first time Maryland has missed two penalty kicks in the same match since 2017, and if it was not for Griffith, this may have went down as one of the most frustrating matches in program history.
“Typically you don’t get that many chances in postseason play. So, we have to be a little bit better,” Cirovski said. “We weren’t sharp today. Hopefully we’re a little sharper on Wednesday.”
2. Griffith made the most of his rare playing time. Prior to Friday’s match, the freshman appeared in 14 of Maryland’s 16 matches, averaging 31 minutes per game. Griffith has not been able to find his grove in his limited playing time this season — tallying one goal in the regular season — but showed out when Cirovski elected to start him in the second half. Griffith scored the lone goal of the game in the 76th minute and prevented the Terps from entering another postseason penalty shootout with the Wildcats.
“When I came in I made sure to bring the energy,” Griffith said. “[I] caused some problems. I think that’s what coach wanted and that’s what I brought.”
3. The Terps got their revenge. In 2021, Maryland earned the No. 2 seed in the Big Ten Tournament and was matched up with No. 7-seed Northwestern, the same team it beat, 3-1, in the regular season. The Terps got upended in the first round as they could not score in 110 minutes of play, and then lost to the Wildcats, 3-2, in a penalty shootout. In virtually the same situation this year, Maryland got its revenge and defeated Northwestern, 1-0, in a highly-competitive match.
“Winning the first game in any tournament is very difficult,” Cirovski said. “It was good for this group this year to get a [positive] result, unlike last year in a similar challenge. So, I think that shows growth, I think that shows maturity and I think it shows resilience.”