Following a handball violation by Northwestern in the 25th minute of play, Maryland men’s soccer had a fantastic chance to open the scoring.
The free kick, which was sent in from just to the left of the box, landed right on the foot of Max Riley. Maryland’s forward pounded the ball, but it was stunningly blocked off the line by a Northwestern defender. Still, a rebound landed right on forward Luke van Heukelum’s foot, but the freshman zipped his shot past the post.
The missed opportunity highlighted the Terps’ inability to finish their chances all evening — and all season — as they once again left the pitch searching for answers in a 2-0 loss to the No. 16 Wildcats.
“We got to start scoring. Bottom line,” forward Stefan Copetti said. “Obviously it’s frustrating as a forward, but I have the utmost belief in everyone that in the next game. Goals will come.”
Although Maryland’s energy and speed was far more palpable than over the past few matches, Northwestern was still the better side early. A corner kick to go along with well-placed balls down the sideline paced the Wildcats’ attack.
Despite that, Maryland’s offense did see an improvement in its quality of chances. In the seventh minute of play, defender Alex Nitzl teed off from well beyond the box, sending the ball off the crossbar. This was followed up by a barrage of crosses and opportunities from the middle of the field, which the offense has been largely bereft of recently.
The Wildcats, who had 33 corner kicks heading into the match, earned two early chances from that. The latter nearly resulted in a goal as the Terps had some difficulties on the clear attempt.
The early portion of the contest helped to illustrate the Terps’ development on the offensive end. In addition to generating more chances, the attackers and midfielders worked well in tandem, finding ways to move the ball in tight areas.
Another noteworthy facet to Maryland’s opening half offense was its fast-break style of play. Rather than being overly patient, the Terps sprung into action, using the full width of the field to their advantage. This spread the Wildcat defense apart and opened up more holes in the attacking third.
“I think just having that wide play with our wide midfielders and getting balls into the box with our two strikers ... it just creates a lot of opportunities,” Copetti said.
With just over three minutes remaining in the first half, though, Northwestern broke the ice. A spectacular set-up outside the box gave Northwestern midfielder Collin McCamy an opportunity to capitalize. He didn’t disappoint, sending a rocket into the lower left corner of the net to give the Wildcats a 1-0 lead late in the half.
The second half began with the Terps utilizing the midfield in their counter attack process. Nitzl — along with freshman Leon Koehl — played significant roles in transitioning the ball up to the attack.
“We can play nice in the middle of the field, but in the last 25 yards is where we have to get better,” Nitzl said.
However, an opportunistic chance in the 52nd minute doubled Northwestern’s lead. This time, forward Christopher Thaggard sent in a strike to the lower left corner.
Despite attacking possession favoring the Terps, finishing remained a serious issue. Ball control in and around the box was spotty, and shooting accuracy was poor, as the team managed just seven shots on goal despite accumulating 15 total shots.
Down two, Maryland head coach Sasho Cirvoski even made some key decisions late in the half, opting to keep just two defenders deep.
The effort simply wasn’t enough, though, and the Terps remained winless in Big Ten play.
“We deserved better than what we got,” Cirovski said. “We were very encouraged by the effort and quality of the chances we created.”
Three things to know
1. A corner kick frenzy. Corner kicks are typically uneventful for the both the Terps and the Wildcats. While none of the 15 total opportunities produced any scores, they injected the game with plenty of drama. On multiple occasions, headers went clanging off the crossbar, goal-line clearances were made and pandemonium ensued as a battle for the ball took place.
2. More defensive slip-ups. The Wildcats had just 10 shots, six of which were on goal. However, they still managed to score twice despite spending just 20% of their time with the ball in the attacking third.
“It was similar to the Penn State game. It’s inexcusable,” Cirovski said of goalkeeper Mikah Seger’s turnover, which led to Northwestern’s second goal. “It’s something that Mikah took responsibility for and I’m proud of him ... I don’t think you’ll ever see him do that again.”
3. Better offense, but the same result. The Terps had 15 shots on the evening, which doesn’t encapsulate the vast improvement seen on the offensive end. The ball movement and control was commendable, but the problems rose when it came to finishing the opportunities generated. Northwestern goalkeeper Jackson Weyman made seven saves on the night and Maryland hit the post on three different occasions.
“The players in the box just have to find the opening and put the ball in the back of the net,” Cirovski said. “We just have to have a bit more composure and see if there’s a way we can get it over the line rather than a goalpost or the goalkeeper’s body.”