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No. 20 Maryland men’s soccer defeats No. 9 New Hampshire, 2-1, in season opener

The Terps held off a late game surge from the Wildcats in front of their home fans at Ludwig Field.

Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics.

With both offenses stagnant in the second half, the game was free for the taking as No. 20 Maryland men’s soccer held a one goal lead over No. 9 New Hampshire.

The Terps desperately needed to create offense and extend their lead against a ranked opponent. Maryland found its reliable redshirt sophomore star Joshua Bolma. The forward received a pass from junior defender Alex Nitzl and made his move.

Dribbling towards the goal line, Bolma planted his foot and sent a missile to the edge of the goal area. Freshman forward Colin Griffith was in perfect position, redirecting the pass straight into the center of the goal for the first time in his young career, giving Maryland a 2-0 lead in the 75th minute.

While New Hampshire made it close, scoring its lone goal in the 83rd minute, it wasn’t enough to overtake the Terps two-goal lead as they defeated New Hampshire, 2-1, on opening night in College Park on Thursday. With a top-10 win under its belt to open the season, Maryland should receive a boost in the national rankings.

“I’m obviously delighted with the performance and the result tonight. That was a national contender in New Hampshire,” head coach Sasho Cirovski said. “You can see the pieces in the front line were starting to come together today and I think that’s the start of some really positive opportunities for us in the future.”

By the time 6 p.m. rolled around, Ludwig Field was rocking as Maryland welcomed back its diehard fanbase to Ludwig Field — The Crew.

New Hampshire applied the pressure early, though, as it tallied three free kicks in the first three minutes. Junior forward Eli Goldman fired the first shot of the game in the seventh minute, but it was off target.

The next seven minutes were all Maryland, as they generated countless opportunities. Bolma had his first shot blocked and then a Maryland corner kick quickly resulted in a throw-in.

In the 14th minute, the Terps finally broke through. Bolma snaked past the defense with some nifty footwork before the ball was blasted across the field by redshirt senior defender Nick Richardson. His pass was met by sophomore midfielder Griffin Dillion, who delivered a beautiful header to senior forward Hunter George. The perfectly-placed assist was lifted by George into the top right corner of the net, giving Maryland its first goal and lead of the season.

The Terps kept their foot on the gas as they continued to play fast and aggressive. Their next look came at the hands of Dillion, who grounded the ball into the center of the net, but it was easily saved by New Hampshire goalkeeper Jassem Koleilat, his first of the game.

Dillion and Koleilat met again in the 26th minute. Dillion collected a corner kick and attempted a shot at the left side of the net this time, but it ended in the same result — a Koleilat save.

A wave of substitutions put New Hampshire in a perfect position to even the score. Maryland junior forward Stefan Copetti committed a foul within his first minute of play, giving the Wildcats a free kick. Senior midfielder Bilal Kamal’s first shot of the game was subsequently blocked, however.

Maryland’s stifling defense continued to block the Wildcats shots, and Richardson found himself at the goal for the first time in the game. Richardson tried to finesse the ball past Koleilat, but the goalkeeper tallied his third save.

As the first half came to a close, Maryland had clearly outplayed the Wildcats on both sides of the pitch. The Terps converted one of their four shots on goal, while their back line prevented any on the other end.

With refreshed legs and minds, the two teams got off to a chippy start in the second half. George was awarded the first yellow card of the game in the 49th minute, and just three minutes later New Hampshire junior midfielder Yannick Bright earned one himself.

With each offense at a standstill, Cirovski made a bold move, replacing George, the lone goal scorer, with Copetti. He came into the game with some extra motivation, scorching down the field and delivering the Terps’ first shot of the half.

While the shot was off target, Maryland’s defenders were able to keep New Hampshire at bay until its next opportunity arrived. The Terps secured a commanding 2-0 lead in the 75th minute, when Bolma fired a beautiful pass into the edge of the goal area, which was finished off by Griffith.

With under 10 minutes to play, New Hampshire was running out of time. Although they scored a goal in the 83rd minute to cut Maryland’s lead to one, it was too little, too late, as the Terps started the season with a victory.

Three things to know

1. Joshua Bolma was a playmaker all night long. The 2021 Big Ten Freshman of the Year showcased his skills Thursday night, playing a critical role in both of Maryland’s goals. Bolma’s footwork opened up an opportunity for the Terps to convert in the 14th minute, and his impressive cross earned him an assist on Griffith’s tally. He will continue to be the key to Maryland’s offense this season.

“Josh is a versatile player. We want him to get on the ball more,” Cirovski said. “[Attacking midfielder] is a really good spot for him right now because he can impact the game so much more.”

2. Despite a late goal, the Terps were stout on defense. Maryland and New Hampshire both had nine shots Thursday night, but the Wildcats struggled to get quality chances, outside of Kamal’s goal. Senior goalkeeper Niklas Neumann didn’t have to make a single save, a testament to the performance by Maryland’s back line. The Wildcats are one of the best teams on Maryland’s schedule, and the Terps’ performance bodes well for what to expect from them the rest of the season.

“We just got to outwork them. Yeah, they were very talented up front, they were very tall, and you just got to outwork them in the air, outwork them on the ground and beat them to balls,” senior midfielder Malcolm Johnston said.

3. Hunter George is on fire. With the departure of No. 1 MLS SuperDraft pick Ben Bender, Maryland recruited five forwards in an attempt to replace his production. Luckily for the Terps, the answer was already on their roster. George set Ludwig Field on fire during the preseason, scoring two of Maryland’s five goals, and he did not stop in the season-opener. George set the tone in the beginning of the match, giving Maryland a 1-0 lead that it never relinquished.

“It felt good. We’ve put a lot of work in this summer,” George said. “I think it feels good for everyone to have a great first game. We needed it.”