Down 1-0, No. 9 Maryland men’s soccer found itself at the mercy of No. 20 Denver, which was in complete control for the first 15 minutes. After senior defender Chris Rindov managed to prevent another Pioneer goal, senior goalkeeper Niklas Neumann was challenged with a penalty kick.
Sophomore midfielder Sam Bassett snaked through the defense and into the box but was tripped by redshirt sophomore midfielder Joe Suchecki. With a one-on-one opportunity and a chance to take a 2-0 lead, Bassett did not disappoint, drilling the shot.
This two-goal deficit proved to be too much for the Terps to handle as every one of their shots on goal were misdirected, resulting in a 2-0 loss in College Park on Friday night. Maryland now stands at 1-1-1 on the season with a Monday-night matchup against Virginia looming.
“It was a very frustrating performance tonight, certainly not the beginning of the game that we wanted,” head coach Sasho Cirovski said. “We always find a way to get stronger. We’ll take a look at some things and tweak what we need to, but we were second-best all night.”
In its last home game before Big Ten play, Maryland looked to put on a show in front of a rowdy crowd at Ludwig Field on Friday night.
Players flew to the grass in the first five minutes as both teams were not afraid to get physical. The top-20 matchup did not disappoint in the opening minutes as Maryland’s fan base, labeled “The Crew,” got plenty of action.
The Terps’ set piece struggles continued against Denver as the Pioneers capitalized in the sixth minute. Junior defender Ronan Wynne parked himself right outside the goal area as sophomore midfielder Sam Bassett launched a corner kick across the box. Towering over his defender, Wynne headed the ball into the bottom right corner of the goal, giving the Pioneers a 1-0 lead.
With the ball primarily in Denver’s position, it was able to fire off shot after shot. With the ball in the box, senior goalkeeper Niklas Neumann found himself out of position. But, senior defender Chris Rindov was able to sneak to the goal line and deflect a shot headed towards the net.
Rindov was not there in the 17th minute, though, as Neumann found himself on an island awaiting a penalty kick. Bassett blasted the ball to the right of the net, too fast for Neumann to react.
Now trailing by two, Maryland needed a response. Redshirt junior defender Nick Richardson attempted to provide that for the Terps, but his first shot of the game was scooped up by Denver freshman goalkeeper Isaac Nehme. Senior forward Hunter George then rattled off back-to-back shots, but he could not convert.
During the next 10 minutes, Maryland was limited on the offensive end as Neumann recorded his first two saves of the match. As the final five minutes of the half approached, each team was able to deliver multiple shots, including George, who had his third and fourth shots saved.
The Terps’ bad luck peaked in the 44th minute, when redshirt sophomore midfielder Joshua Bolma was tripped and injured. Ludwig Field waited with bated breath as its star player winced in pain for the second straight game. Bolma was able to walk off the pitch, but Maryland couldn’t afford any setbacks as it went into halftime down two goals.
Similar to the first half, the beginning of the second half was packed with close calls. Neumann and Nehme traded three consecutive saves in the first three minutes as both offenses were on the brink of scoring.
With Denver playing conservatively, Maryland was unable to break through its defense. The Terps failed to record another shot on goal as they picked up their first loss of the season.
Three things to know
1. Injuries continue to plague Maryland. Sunday night’s game saw multiple Terps limp off the field, clearly banged up after a hard-fought game against Liberty. Sophomore defender William Kulvik was helped off the field by two trainers and Bolma suffered a head injury in the first minute. It seemed like Maryland was well-rested to begin Friday night’s match against Denver, but things quickly turned for the worst.
In the 44th minute, Bolma took a shot to the legs, resulting in a near 10-minute injury timeout. The star midfielder was able to walk off the field and return to play, but Maryland will need him —along with the rest of the Terps — healthy if it wants to defeat Virginia on Monday.
“We have some skillful, quick guys and they’re gonna get fouled and, you know, we have to make teams pay off of those fouls,” Cirovski said.
2. Isaac Nehme was a brick wall. Nehme was serviceable in Denver’s first two games this season, allowing two goals without recording a save. This was not the case on Friday as Nehme was possessed, shutting out the Terps on his way to five saves. If Nehme can blossom into an elite keeper, the Pioneers will only continue to climb up the national rankings.
“It was a very good team effort. Their whole backline was hungry. They really denied lines. They were very compact. As a whole they just played very well defensively,” Richardson said.
3. Set pieces continue to kill the Terps. Both of Denver’s goals against Maryland came on set pieces, and this is not a coincidence. In the Terps’ 1-1 tie against Liberty, they were locked in defensively, barley letting the Flames get past midfield. Liberty was only able to get off two shots, both of which were off set pieces. This is a weakness that needs to be addressed if Maryland wants to get back to the College Cup.
“That’s the number one goal that I hate to see. The worst goal that I can conceive is a penalty and a corner,” Neumann said. “We have sheets up in the locker room, everybody knows where [they’re] supposed to be, and at the end of the day you just got to execute and do your job and we just didn’t and that just can’t happen.”
“It’s not neuroscience out there. It’s just a couple people that pulled out of position,” Cirovski added. “Those things should be correctable and they shouldn’t be happening, but they do, and we’ll have to address it and train it and make sure it doesn’t happen again.”