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Missed penalty looms large in No. 20 Maryland men’s soccer’s scoreless draw with No. 16 Wake Forest

Stefan Copetti missed a would-be go-ahead penalty kick.

Maryland men’s soccer had plenty of chances, but couldn’t find the back of the net against Wake Forest.
Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics.

Stefan Copetti lined up in the 70th minute to deliver No. 20 Maryland men’s soccer’s first penalty kick of the season.

With the score knotted at zero, the senior attacker had an opportunity to spring the Terps ahead of No. 16 Wake Forest and send Ludwig Field into a frenzy.

Copetti sprung forward and launched himself into the shot. The ball rocketed toward the lower left corner of the net, but Wake Forest goalkeeper Trace Alphin followed Copetti’s movement, dove to his right and amazingly denied the skilled forward.

The missed opportunity highlighted the Terps’ inability to capitalize on a bevy of chances all night long, resulting in a scoreless draw.

The game got off to a chippy start, with both programs committing a foul in the opening minutes; Multiple stoppages were necessary after a few cards were issued.

Maryland (1-1-1) sparked a number of counter-attacks off throw-ins, leading its attackers into the open field for opportunities.

Conversely, Wake Forest’s strategy was apparent: it was going to hammer balls over the Terps’ midfield, effectively avoiding any chance of confrontation in its own quarter of the pitch. Maryland handled the Demon Deacons’ attack nicely, with its lengthly defenders heading numerous crosses out of danger.

“Our focus coming into the match was to not let [Wake Forest] have anything in the first five minutes,” said forward Max Riley. “It wasn’t as much about going forward as it was defending.”

Nearing the 15th minute, Maryland started to impose its will on the flustered Wake Forest (1-0-2) back line. Attacking the goal with vigor, midfielder Joe Suchecki and forward Luke van Heukelum both had close-range scoring opportunities. van Huekelum was harshly tackled just inside the box, but the referee kept his whistle silent.

In the 25th minute, the Terps gained a significant momentum boost following a pair of spectacular goal-mouth stands on Demon Deacon free kicks. Defender William Kulvik blocked one of the set pieces with his head to the delight of his teammates and the fans.

“[The defense] was solid back there and we want to keep it going that way,” Kulvik said. “Kento [Abe] and Luca [Costabile] had great performances.”

As the half waned, Wake Forest took the upper hand, though, maintaining possession for a significant period and working to isolate the Terps’ forwards. This limited Maryland’s breakout options and forced it to play conservatively. It was, however, able to stymie the Demon Deacons for the remainder of the half.

The Terps opened up the second half with a quick strike, as forward Max Riley’s cross into the box for a streaking Copetti was placed just feet short of its intended target. This was accompanied by a plethora of counter-attacks, all of which were rendered fruitless.

Similarly to its bout with UNC Greensboro, Maryland flexed its formation to feature three defenders rather than four. This, coupled with the insertion of well-timed substitutions, including midfielder Justin Harris and forward Colin Griffith, kept a significant load of pressure on the Demon Deacons.

The final 20 minutes of the half were chock-full of back-and-forth play. Both programs were spurned on corner kicks, through balls and entries into the box. The tension was palpable as a pair of yellow cards were handed out, resulting in a lengthly scuffle.

But with emotions running high, neither team was able to break the ice, and they had to settle for a draw.

“I thought we deserved better, but I can accept a tie as a fair result,” head coach Sasho Cirovski said. “I thought we came up in the second half a little bit on the front foot and our press was a little bit better.”

Three things to know

1. Physicality was key. The aggressiveness that both teams played with was not just a mark of two competitive programs, but a deft tactic. The 17 combined first-half fouls wore down both squads, with multiple players dropping to the turf due to injury. It also brought a spark of excitement to the game, which was missing in the Terps’ first two games.

“I expected this to be a highly competitive, and at times, combative game because you’ve got two teams with a great deal of pride and a lot of very good athletes,” Cirovski said. “It was tough, but I didn’t think it got out of hand.”

2. Shooting woes. For the majority of the contest, Maryland failed to even attempt a shot on goal, further highlighting its struggles to capitalize in tight areas. Whenever Wake Forest cornered an attacker in its defending third of the pitch, Maryland often panicked and made errant decisions.

“We’ve played three games and scored two goals, so we have to get better,” Cirovski said. “I think it’s coming, but we’re also playing some really good teams right now. I think we’ll be better moving forward by playing these games.”

3. Promising attack combination. The insertion of Harris into the game was critical for the Terps, and despite not yielding any goals, it proved to be a wise decision. Along with Copetti and Griffith, Harris offered a complementary skillset given his prowess and previous experience as a midfielder, resulting in multiple scoring chances.

“We really needed his athleticism,” Cirovski said of Harris. “He has so much agility and dynamic qualities ... it was his best outing of the year. I thought he was quite good on both sides of the ball.”