After suffering its first loss of the season, No. 9 Maryland men’s soccer looks to bounce back in a major way in the “Battle for the DMV.” The annual Labor Day match at Audi Field returns when the Terps take on Virginia on Monday.
Maryland’s start to the 2022 season has been a bit shaky. The Terps started the season with an impressive win over No. 9 New Hampshire before tying Liberty, 1-1, despite recording 14 more shot attempts. On Friday night, Maryland took on another ranked opponent, but couldn’t get it done on the offensive end, falling to No. 20 Denver, 2-0.
The “Battle for the DMV” will begin at 6:00 p.m. in what is a pinnacle game for the Terps.
Virginia Cavaliers (2-1)
2021 record: 6-9-3 (2-5-1 ACC)
Head coach George Gelnovatch is a legend in Charlottesville, Virginia. Gelnovatch has won two national championships, made six College Cup appearances and clinched an NCAA Tournament berth in 24 of his 26 seasons. However, the Cavaliers have struggled as of late, failing to make the NCAA Tournament in each of the last two seasons. With the “Battle for the DMV” on the horizon, Gelnovatch will try to extend Virginia’s winning streak to three.
Players to know
Leo Afonso, junior forward, No. 7 — Afonso was an All-ACC second team selection last season. As a sophomore, Afonso led the team in points (18) with eight goals and two assists, contributing on 35% of Virginia’s goals. He has not slowed down in the slightest this season, scoring two of the Cavaliers’ seven goals. Maryland has not faced this level of goal-scoring ability thus far and will need to be ready.
Asparuh Slavov, sophomore midfielder, No. 10 — Slavov was a pillar in Virginia’s midfield last season, earning an All-ACC freshman team selection. He started in all 17 of his appearances, recording one goal and one assist while contributing on the defensive end. Slavov has not made much noise this season, but he will still be one of the best players on the pitch Monday.
Kome Ubogu, sophomore midfielder, No. 18 — Ubogu played second fiddle to Afonso last year, but was still one of the most efficient players in the ACC. He was second on the team in goals (4) and shot percentage (.222) in 2021, while being credited with two game-winning goals. This season, Ubogu has played much of the same game — efficiency and timing. He has only scored one goal but has a 100% shot-on-goal percentage.
Defense. The Cavaliers have been locked in defensively this season. Junior goalkeeper Holden Brown has just four saves this season, but that’s only because teams cannot get past Virginia’s backline. The Cavaliers have shut out consecutive opponents and Maryland’s offense will have its hands full on Monday.
Experience. While Virginia’s starters are very skilled, they are led by a young core. The Cavaliers’ frontline features multiple underclassmen, while their backline does have some more experience. However, since Virginia hasn’t made the NCAA Tournament in three years, even some of the upperclassmen do not have adequate experience against teams of Maryland’s caliber.
Three things to watch
1. Can Maryland stop Virginia’s set pieces? The Terps’ recent struggles have all come back to one thing: defending set pieces. In Maryland’s second match of the season, Liberty only put up two shots, both of which were on set pieces. Against Denver, the Terps allowed two goals in the first 16 minutes off a corner kick and penalty kick. Up 2-0, Denver was able to play conservatively and deny Maryland’s offense for the entire second half. If the Terps want to win this game, they need to remain disciplined and stop the set piece goals.
2. How will the Terps fare against Virginia’s stout defense? Maryland’s offense has created a ton of opportunities for itself but has not been able to convert. Virginia’s defense, on the other hand, has only surrendered 14 shots and one goal this season. Now playing against a team that limits chances, Maryland could be in some trouble.
3. Who will be the king of the DMV? Since the “Battle for the DMV” began in 2018, the series has been as even as it gets. Maryland and Virginia each hold a 1-1-1 record, with the Terps coming out victorious in 2021. The Cavaliers are on fire, outscoring their last two opponents by seven, while Maryland has struggled since its season-opening win over New Hampshire. Each team has something to prove and it is truly anyone’s game.