Only 28 seconds into Maryland men’s soccer’s game against Liberty Sunday, redshirt sophomore midfielder Joshua Bolma took a scary hit to the head. With Bolma in the medical tent, the Terps’ offense was stagnant as Liberty took a 1-0 lead.
Twenty-six minutes later, Bolma emerged from the tent and jogged onto the pitch. His presence energized the Terps, who scored just four minutes after their star’s return. Neither team was able to put the ball in the net for the remaining 59 minutes, however, resulting in a 1-1 tie.
With a disappointing performance in the rearview mirror, Maryland will host No. 20 Denver, its second top-20 opponent of the season. The match will start at 7:30 p.m. Friday and can be streamed on Big Ten Network Plus.
No. 20 Denver Pioneers (2-0)
2021 record: 10-4-5 (4-1-1 Summit League)
Head coach Jamie Franks is in his 11th season with the program and eighth as head coach. Franks has had immense success in his first seven seasons, accumulating an 83-30-18 record. He knows what it takes to win as a player and coach, reaching five College Cups and winning a national championship during his soccer career. The four-time Summit League Coach of the Year was the youngest head coach in Division I in 2015, but that did not stop him from dominating. During his second season in charge, Franks led the Pioneers to their first College Cup appearance in program history and first postseason victory since 1970. Now off to a 2-0 record, Franks is looking for his seventh NCAA Tournament appearance.
Players to know
Liam Johnson, graduate midfielder, No. 22 — Johnson has been a consistent starter over the last five years and Denver’s captain in the last three. The upperclassman has only improved over the course of his career, earning Summit League Defensive Player of the Year honors in 2021. Johnson does not contribute much on the offensive end but should make life very difficult for Maryland’s attackers.
Aidan O’Toole, senior midfielder, No. 10 — O’Toole has also been a primary starter since joining Denver in 2019. While he is more of an offensive player than Johnson, recording one goal and one assist last season, O’Toole is a beast on the defensive end. His presence and disruption at midfield earned him a spot on the All-Summit League first team last season.
Stefan DeLeone, graduate forward, No. 7 — DeLeone was the third and final Pioneer on the All-Summit League first team last year. Unlike the other two, DeLeone makes his name on the offensive end as he led the team with three assists last season while also scoring three goals. DeLeone has only recorded one assist this season but is someone the Terps need to watch out for.
Defense. Led by Johnson and O’Toole, Denver had one of the best defenses in the nation last year. The Pioneers allowed just 15 goals in 19 games, which ranked ninth in the country. Denver has allowed a goal in each of its games this season, and it may take freshman goalkeeper Isaac Nehme a few more games to adjust to the college level.
Fouling. Despite being led by experienced players, the Pioneers often found themselves in foul trouble last year. Denver recorded the most fouls in the Summit League with 259 — 80 more than the next team. This season, the Pioneers not only lead the conference in fouls (34), but yellow cards (8) as well.
Three things to watch
1. Can the Terps convert on chances? Maryland’s second game of the season ended in a tie with Liberty, 1-1. On the surface, it looks like these two teams played astonishing defense, but this is only partially true. The Terps’ backline was locked in, limiting the Flames to two shot attempts. On the other side, Maryland fired off 16 shots, six of which were on goal, and only got one of them into the back of the net. Against a much better team, the Terps can not afford a similar outcome.
“I’m not overly concerned,” head coach Sasho Cirovski said. “We know our guys can score and I think some games it just doesn’t go in. We had seven quality chances and only one goal, that’s certainly not good enough.”
2. How will injuries impact Maryland? As the final horn sounded against Liberty, many Terps were seen limping Sunday. Sophomore defender William Kulvik had his arms wrapped around two trainers on his way off the pitch. Kulvik scored Maryland’s lone goal against Liberty and has been an important part of the Terps’ staggering defense this season. With Bolma still dealing with his head injury, it will be interesting to see how Cirovski approaches the situation.
“I haven’t seen them yet, I’ve gotten reports, but I haven’t seen them yet. So, I’ll know a lot more after I see what they’re like at training today. We had a lot of players limp off the field,” Cirovski said Tuesday.
3. Can the Terps beat another ranked team? In its season opener, Maryland squared off against New Hampshire, which was ranked No. 9 at the time, as clear underdogs. The Terps fought off the Wildcats’ late-game push as they started off the season with an impressive 2-1 win. Now, Maryland will have to once again prove itself against another nationally-ranked opponent in Denver. So the question becomes, can the Terps do it again?