After falling to Missouri State on Thursday, No. 14 Maryland men’s soccer (1-1-0) was more than prepared Sunday to take on No. 10 UNC Greensboro.
From the get-go, Maryland had its legs and captured the momentum. Rapid ball movement and crafty strategy aided the Terps all game long in their 2-0 defeat of the Spartans.
The Terps especially made their presence felt in the second half, and deservedly broke the scoreless tie in the 65th minute. Receiving a pass at the top of the box from fellow forward Kimani Stewart-Baynes, Joe Suchecki whipped a left-footed shot to the opposite side of the goal to break the scoreless tie.
“There’s nothing like it,” Suchecki said of scoring the Terps’ first goal of the season. “I just really care about getting the win. Whatever I can do to help, I just have to be ready for it.”
Maryland never showed signs of slowing down, maintaining its attacking pressure following the score. Stefan Copetti and Colin Griffith both nearly seized scores before Stewart-Baynes found the back of the net on his own rebound.
The Terps were the clear aggressors all night long, sending in a number of lofty through balls into dangerous areas. Senior wingback Kento Abe continued his strong offensive play, refusing to be denied on his runs along the sideline and opening up a plethora of space for attackers to enter.
“We played too safe and cautious on Thursday,” Cirovski said. “Today, we were a little more vertical...I think we played with just a higher speed. There was more urgency from the first minute to the last minute.”
Both squads had fantastic scoring opportunities within the first 10 minutes. UNC Greensboro’s Yoshiya Okawa rocketed a point-blank blast, which first-time starting goalkeeper Micah Seger nicely deflected out of play. Seger had a great debut for the Terps, stopping all six shots he faced on the night.
Meanwhile, a masterfully placed cross into the back corner of the box nearly yielded the first goal of the season for the Terps, but Spartans goalkeeper Mathias Belle denied an attempt from Stefan Copetti.
Maryland employed an obvious change of strategy Sunday evening, not allowing the Spartans to trap it in its defensive zone. Instead, each goal kick was sent past midfield. It highlighted head coach Sasho Cirovski’s trust in his team to win 50/50 balls.
“We challenged [the defense] to respond after Thursday’s performance,” Cirovski said. “We started out on the right foot and we kept the pressure on throughout the game.”
The Terps’ extended time on attack allowed for their backline to continuously press and their midfielders to be more assertive with the ball. The added pressure wreaked havoc on the Spartans’ defense, who often found themselves sending the ball out of play to avoid turnovers.
The second half of play opened similarly to the first, with Maryland controlling the pace of play. Two corner kicks within the first 10 minutes gave the Terps prime scoring opportunities.
UNC Greensboro did have more prime scoring chances than the Terps to start the second frame — totaling five shots in the half — however Maryland was always quick to transition out of them, bashing the ball up the sidelines and over the heads of the Spartan midfielders.
Not once taking their foot off the gas pedal, the Terps displayed a vast improvement from Thursday’s match in all facets of the game.
Three things to know
1. Intensity in the first half. Maryland’s opening half of play was filled with energy and effort. The Terps spent 49% of their time with possession in the attacking third as opposed to the Spartans, who spent just 16% of their time with the ball in the same position. In addition, they outshot UNC Greensboro 6-4 and logged five corner kicks.
2. Communication on defense. As a unit, Maryland’s back line appeared to be more comfortable compared to Thursday. This was especially evident on an offside trap, led by transfer defender Bjarne Thiesen. In addition, the Terps committed fewer errors.
3. The freshman shines. Stewart-Baynes showed flashes of potential in Thursday’s game, but put it all together on Sunday, notching one goal and one assist. The first-year adds speed, skill and poise to Maryland’s attack, and should continue to see ample playing time.
“I couldn’t ask for more than that,” Stewart-Baynes said when asked about how good his first goal as a Terp felt. “I just had to stay composed...and my teammates are amazing. It just makes my job easier.”