Maryland is playing its best soccer of the season right now, and it couldn’t have come at a better time.
After holding on to a 1-0 lead to finish off an upset of the then-No. 7-ranked Denver Pioneers, the Terrapins hosted Ohio State, which sits in last place in the Big Ten. The Terps (6-5-3, 3-3 Big Ten) did exactly what they needed to do, thoroughly destroying the Buckeyes en route to a 5-0 win, easily their best performance of the season.
It was senior night at Ludwig Field, and it’s only fitting that a trio of seniors led the way on offense. Sebastian Elney scored to kick off the game, Amar Sejdic added two insurance goals, and Chase Gasper tied a school record with three assists.
Next up, Penn State, in the midst of a challenging season, will come to College Park for Maryland’s final home match. Kickoff is scheduled for 6 p.m. ET and can be seen on the Big Ten Network.
Penn State Nittany Lions (5-7-2, 2-2-2 Big Ten)
2017 record: 5-10-2 (2-6)
Head coach Jeff Cook has just begun his career in State College, taking over for Bob Warming, who had been in charge for eight seasons. Cook has 17 years of experience as a head coach at the collegiate level, with stints at Dartmouth and Cincinnati under his belt. However, Cook’s past five years were spent in MLS in the Philadelphia Union organization, assisting with its youth development program in addition to serving as an assistant coach with Bethlehem Steel FC of the United Soccer League.
Players to know
Freshman forward Jeremy Rafanello, No. 7. Despite it being his first year with Penn State, Rafanello has established himself as the leader of the offense as the season winds down. He has scored three goals so far, tied for the team lead, and in adding an assist, Rafanello paces the squad with seven points.
Junior goalkeeper Arie Ammann, No. 1. Redshirt sophomore Josh Levine started and played very well in his 11 appearances this season, but over the past two games, Ammann has been given the starting nods. He’s posted shutouts in two of his three total starts, but last time out against James Madison, he took the loss in a 1-0 defeat.
Defense. Despite working with two different goalkeepers, the Nittany Lions’ back line has played at a high level all season. As a team, they have allowed just 0.82 goals per game, which ranks 28th in the country. That’s in large part due to the five shutouts Penn State has posted this season in just 14 games, good for a .357 percentage.
Offense. Penn State has had scoring difficulties throughout the year, and although the attack broke through for a three-game stretch earlier this month, the Nittany Lions were shut out last time around, indicative of their season as a whole. They rank second-to-last in the conference with 0.93 goals per game, and that places them T-169th in the nation in scoring offense.
Three things to watch
1. Can Maryland keep things rolling? Simply put, this is the best the Terrapins have played all season. An upset victory against a top-10 team seems to have jumpstarted the squad, and now, they are performing the way Sasho Cirovski knew they could be. But the Terps still need to keep piling on wins as the season winds down.
2. Does Penn State bounce back? The Nittany Lions had won three matches in a row before their defeat at the hands of James Madison. In fact, it was three consecutive shutouts, outscoring their opponents 6-0. With anything possible in the Big Ten tournament, which holds an auto-bid to the NCAA Tournament, carrying some semblance of momentum is crucial.
3. Is the Terps’ resume good enough to make the dance? Maryland holds a rather unimpressive 6-5-3 record, but the win against Denver improved its chances exponentially. While the Terrapins haven’t received a single vote in the United Soccer Coaches Poll, RPI ranks them as the 19th-best team in the nation. A strong close to the season is still crucial, and with two winnable matches left on the schedule, that’s a real possibility.