Junior forward Gordon Wild had three goals in the first five games of the season for Maryland men’s soccer, but none had come in the run in play.
As the games went by and the country’s most prolific scorer over the past two years only had a free kick and two successful penalty kicks as goals, a legitimate question arose: what is going on with Gordon Wild in the attacking third?
Wild watched film from his 17-goal 2016 season prior to Tuesday’s game against Rutgers. Head coach Sasho Cirvoski said that Wild had been drifting too far away from the goal in the first five games, so he needed to be reminded to attack the box.
The result: two goals against the Scarlet Knights en route to a 3-0 Terps win.
I, too, decided to watch some film to really see what went right Tuesday night compared Wild’s frustrating games against UCLA and Indiana. (Disclaimer: I know UCLA and Indiana have far better defenses than Rutgers, but the following analysis will simply emphasize when Wild is most dangerous.)
In the first half against UCLA, defender Johannes Bergmann played a ball upfield to Wild. Instead of attacking the box, Wild set up a long-range shot on his dominant foot, resulting in a weak attempt.
He had three shots in the game: this one, a shot just inside the box that missed wide left and his penalty kick goal.
This outside-the-box mindset carried over into the following match against Indiana. Wild had five shots against the Hoosiers, none of which were on target. Four were from outside the box, including this one from the first half.
Against a defense like Indiana that makes opportunities scarce, Wild was found outside the box on many Maryland attacks and was quick to shoot from distance, resulting in a handful shots way over the frame.
From this point on as I reviewed these three games, Wild showed what his priority should be on every attack the Terps make this season. It later became glaringly obvious against Rutgers, but Wild showed glimpses of it in the second half against the Hoosiers.
Wild’s most lethal characteristic is his ability to find open space inside the box. Naturally, soccer players are more dangerous inside the box than outside given the proximity to the goal. But there’s a reason he scored 33 goals in two years: his positioning and finishing ability from in close. Wild’s best opportunity at a game-winner against Indiana came right in front of goal, his only shot inside the box last Friday.
Although he missed the attempt, keep in mind where Wild is located on the field. Remember the space in between the six-yard box and the penalty spot because Wild attacked it nearly every single time the Terps were in Rutgers’ defending third on Tuesday.
With 15 minutes left in the first half against the Scarlet Knights, Jake Rozhansky led Eryk Williamson into the box, setting up this cross to Wild.
Watch Wild start from an offside position and then come back as he recognizes the play developing. He then sprints to the space in between the goalie and the penalty spot. Now, watch how he creates separation for a shot by suddenly stopping as his defender keeps running.
In the second half, Wild continued to attack the box as his midfielders created the opportunities. Sebastian Elney ends up shooting himself, but notice how Wild follows the play and then moves into the same space from the previous clip.
I saved the two goals for last. Many people said both during and after the game that Wild didn’t have to do anything to earn his two scores. But his understanding of the build-up play and where he should be is underrated, as seen during his first goal Tuesday.
Sure, all he had to do was stick his foot out. But before that, look how he’s leaning toward the goal as Rozhansky receives the pass in the middle of the field. Wild knows the next pass is either out wide or to Williamson. The second Williamson makes his run into space, Wild makes his own run into his most lethal position on the field.
His second goal showed the same exact concept.
Once again, Wild situated himself in the penalty arc as his midfielders created the build-up play. He staggered in an onside position and then slipped into open space in front of the penalty spot, knowing a pass would make its way toward the middle. Wild didn’t have to do much to finish his two goals, but he definitely earned them by attacking the box all game. Of his five shots, four of them were from inside the box.
Unlike previous matches this season, Wild didn’t drift to the wings or away from the goal. He’s a natural finisher, and whatever film he and the coaches watched prior to Rutgers reminded last year’s Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year of that.