In the 38th minute, Maryland men’s soccer faltered, gifting Penn State a lead that it never relinquished.
An ill-advised cross-pitch pass by goalie Mikah Seger allowed Penn State forward Peter Mangione to put the ball perfectly in the top left corner on a point-blank chance.
The mistake, coupled with a lack of ability in the final third, ultimately resulted in a 1-0 loss for the Terps (1-3-2), which extended their winless streak to four games.
“We made one costly error, and obviously against an experienced team like Penn State and especially with a player like Peter Mangione, they made us pay for it,” Maryland head coach Sasho Cirovski said.
Cirovski made an intriguing formation change to open the game. Instead of positioning two forwards upfront, he staggered Stefan Copetti and Max Riley, and moved two wingers to the outside. This adjustment facilitated through balls that broke through the Penn State defenders and created scoring opportunities.
“We had a very good game plan coming into the game,” Cirovski said. “We knew we had to be very careful on the counter-attack because (Penn State) is very dangerous when they don’t have the ball and when they go in transition.”
On defense, Maryland adopted a conservative stance, as midfielders Alex Nitzl and Leon Koehl remained deep to support defensive duties. Conversely, when the Terps regained possession, their wingbacks took on a more offensive role, frequently delivering crosses into the box.
These schematic changes may have stemmed from Maryland being shorthanded, missing forward Colin Griffith, defender William Kulvik and midfielder Albi Ndrenika.
The Terps aggressively pursued the ball early in anticipation of a potential breakthrough. They successfully switched field position multiple times, forcing the Nittany Lions to continually track Maryland’s movements across the pitch.
Maryland’s early scoring opportunities stemmed from set pieces — primarily corner kicks —which led to an early shot on goal by defender Luca Costabile. But like in recent games, the finishing touch was not there.
Maryland’s effort to contain Penn State’s offensive threat went smoothly, though, allowing the Nittany Lions only two shots and two corner kicks in the first half.
The game’s pace intensified to start the second half. A swift counter-attack initiated by defender Joe McDaid provided Maryland with its first opportunity, while a rapid Penn State corner kick created a great chance for it as well.
Stefan Copetti had Maryland’s best scoring opportunity of the evening, when a through ball found him sprinting across the middle of the field. However, Penn State goalkeeper Kris Shakes made a superb save, preserving the score at 1-0.
Shortly after, Mikah Seger made a diving save of his own to deny Mangione of a second goal.
“Mikah kept us in the game with a couple of huge saves,” Riley said. “It’s on us to put the ball in the back of the net.”
As the half progressed, Maryland disrupted Penn State’s defensive and midfield coordination. The Nittany Lions repeatedly played long balls into the Terps’ territory, surrendering possession and enabling Maryland’s defense to initiate attacks from the back.
But Maryland faced a similar outcome, with its offensive efforts being consistently thwarted by the Nittany Lions defense. Whenever Maryland attempted a through ball, Penn State compacted and outnumbered the attackers, intercepting most passes.
Two last gasp efforts by Copetti proved fruitless as the Terps could not muster a comeback in what is becoming an all too familiar result.
“It was a bit more of the same where we play well enough to get a result, but we just can’t seem to finish off chances,” Cirovski said.
Three things to know
1. Early offensive issues continued. In recent games, the Terps have alternated between being overly aggressive and overly cautious in their offensive strategies.
Their cautious approach in the first half Tuesday led to several costly mistakes, including one that resulted in a goal. Additionally, Maryland managed just three shots and two corners all game. Both corners came in the first 10 minutes of play.
2. Injuries forced Maryland’s hand. Usual depth pieces in Cameron Gerber and defenders Mack DeVries and McDaid each started for the Terps Tuesday, likely influencing Cirovski’s decision to make early substitutions, such as bringing on midfielders Justin Harris and Henrik Sakshaug.
“Obviously the injuries hurt ... a couple of the big starting guys, but we have the depth,” Riley said. “It’s not an excuse. Mack and Joe came in and they looked like they’ve been playing for the whole season.”
3. Where does Maryland go from here? The Terps find themselves in uncharted territory, sitting at 1-3-2. The consistent string of disappointing results is certain to raise lingering questions for Cirovski. Tough decisions may be on the horizon, involving both roster and strategic adjustments.