No one could have predicted that the undefeated, top-seeded, top-ranked team in the nation, with a three-goal lead in the 70th minute, would go on to collapse at home to end its season. But Sunday night, that’s exactly what happened.
No. 1 Maryland men’s soccer (18-1-2) hadn’t lost a non-tournament game since Oct. 31, 2015 against Ohio State, and went the entire 2016 regular season without a loss. The Terps had cut it dangerously close many times, but time and time again, they had forced overtime and gone on to win it.
This had become somewhat of a trend for Maryland; its first game of the season was a double-overtime draw against UCLA. In September, leading scorer Gordon Wild had to score in the 89th minute to put away Georgetown at home. Alex Crognale equalized in the 87th to ensure the draw against Indiana. Jake Rozhansky’s score in the 106th minute took the Terps past a winless Rutgers. Two goals from Wild completed a comeback win against Penn State at home. This was the story of Maryland’s first half of the season.
The Terps then tied their longest shutout streak in program history, outscoring opponents 11-0 over the next five matches. Since a defensive showcase against West Virginia, fans have almost come to expect an overtime thriller and with every match, that No. 1 ranking has looked more fragile.
Before the loss, Maryland had won its previous nine games each by only one goal. Sometimes the Terps would take a lead only to see their opponents pull right back; in other instances, they needed to make dramatic comebacks.
Sunday night at Ludwig Field, neither was the case. It was unlike anything anyone had seen. Bizarre goals, insane comebacks—anything could’ve happened. And that’s why it hurt so much for home fans when the final whistle was blown.
Wild started the scoring off a free kick; the ball was well-struck and driven into the top left corner of the net. Four minutes later, Friars midfielder Julian Gressel capitalized on Crognale’s mistimed clearance and leveled the score. Amar Sejdic gave Maryland the lead again from another crazy free-kick. The Terps midfielder looked like he was trying to center the ball but his shot got caught in the wind and snuck in under the crossbar.
In the second half, two quick goals gave Maryland a comfortable 4-1 advantage and that became their downfall. Instead of maintaining the same level of intensity and closing out the game, the Terps took their foot off the pedal. Maryland head coach Sasho Cirovski began making substitutions so he could rest his starters for the next round. The BTN commentators had already turned their attention to the Kentucky-Creighton matchup, which determined the third round opponent for the winner of this match.
In the meantime, Providence pulled two goals back in a 36-second span. Gressel scored his second of the night with a near-post tally, and then defender Nick Sailor curled an improbable ball 25-yard shot over Cody Niedermeier’s outstretched arm.
"We knew maybe if we get a goal,” Gressel said, “maybe they start to shake a little bit."
The back-and-forth contest that became a Terps blowout had turned into a game again. And it would only get worse for Maryland.
“It’s almost too unimaginable, too unbelievable to see it unfold before your own eyes,” Maryland head coach Sasho Cirovski said.
Friars midfielder Steven Kilday one-timed the equalizer through traffic to tie the game in the 74th minute. Providence, a team that hadn’t put three goals past anyone all season, did so in five minutes. Maryland hadn’t allowed five goals in a game since 1993, Cirovski’s first season.
“I would’ve bet my own life my team wouldn’t give up five goals at home,” Cirovski said. “I’m glad I didn’t.”
The winner would come in the 82nd minute. Defender Joao Serrano curved the corner into the goal for an “Olimpico”—a goal directly off a corner kick. The nature of the goal summed up how the entire game had gone.
“We had a remarkable regular season and a great [Big Ten] tournament, but no one expected this outcome,” said Wild.
Even though it will take a couple of days to digest, the match against Providence does not take anything away from the amazing season these players had. This was arguably Cirovski’s best regular-season team in his 24 years.
With most of the defense graduating, it might be a little tough to rebuild, but not unlike anything this program has faced before. Don’t count the Terps out next year.