clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Maryland men’s soccer vs. Akron NCAA championship preview

The Terps are one win away from their fourth national title.

Matthew Regan

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. — Heading into the College Cup semifinals on Friday night, Maryland was playing its best soccer of the year. Following a midseason loss to Indiana on Oct. 12, the Terrapins had won seven of its last nine matches. That included three victories to kick off their NCAA Tournament run, and the Terps outscored their opponents by a 5-0 margin during that stretch. The last win, a 1-0 shutout of No. 3 Kentucky in the quarterfinal round, sent Maryland out west to California.

Awaiting the streaking Terrapins was Indiana once again, the highest remaining seed in the tournament and the favorite to win the national championship. After being bested twice already this season, Maryland hoped the third meeting would yield a better result.

In both prior contests, Andrew Gutman broke the scoreless tie to give the Hoosiers the first lead of the match. But in the 37th minute on Friday night, the Terps struck first. Following an Eli Crognale corner kick, Matt Di Rosa was in position to make a play. He did just that, and the sophomore scored his first career goal to give Maryland a first-half lead.

“I was so excited,” Di Rosa said. “As a substitute, you want to come in and make a contribution, and today I was lucky enough to do it. To get the goal was the best feeling in the world.”

After being relatively shut down in the first 45 minutes, Indiana came out of the break with a tenacity on offense that few teams have seen all season. The Hoosiers tallied 11 shots in the second half, and it seemed like only a matter of time before they found a game-tying goal. However, that equalizer never came.

Then in the 79th minute, Donovan Pines carried his fantastic defensive performance to the attacking side of the pitch. Indiana failed to clear Crognale’s free kick, and the ball found the right foot of Pines.

“This is my chance,” Pines said when talking about his mindset during his scoring opportunity. “[The ball] got the bottom of the cleat, and it went right through the goalie’s legs.”

The back line held strong over the final 10-plus minutes, and when the final whistle blew, Maryland was headed to the national championship match.

“Our team chemistry is just phenomenal right now,” head coach Sasho Cirovski said. “It’s something we’ve worked on all winter, spring and summer and throughout the fall. And right now it’s at an all-time high.”

The Terrapins are rolling, and they’ll certainly hope their immense momentum can carry over to Sunday night. The national championship match is scheduled to begin at 8 p.m. ET and can be watched on ESPNU.

Akron Zips (15-6-2, 1-2-1 MAC)

2017 record: 18-4-2 (4-1-0 MAC)

Head coach Jared Embick is in his sixth season in charge at Akron, compiling a 94-29-13 (.739) record thus far. Embick served as an assistant coach with the Zips from 2007-12, and the team has made 12 straight NCAA Tournament appearances with him on the coaching staff. When Akron won the national championship in 2010, Embick was named the National Assistant Coach of the Year.

Players to know

Sophomore forward David Egbo, No. 9. Egbo appeared in 18 matches as a freshman, but tallied just one goal and four assists on the year. As a sophomore, though, Egbo has broken out in a huge way. In 22 matches, he has scored a team-high 13 goals while also adding five assists, good for 31 points on the season.

Junior forward Marcel Zajac, No. 11. In his first two seasons in Akron, Zajac tallied a combined seven goals and an assist. But in his junior season, he has burst on to the scene to become a leader of the attack. Despite missing five matches this season, Zajac leads the team with eight assists and ranks second behind Egbo in goals and points with 11 and 30, respectively.

Senior goalkeeper Ben Lundt, No. 1. Lundt started his collegiate career at Lenoir-Rhyne University in North Carolina, a small Division-II college. Lundt transferred to Akron in 2016, and he’s been the starting goalkeeper ever since. In 21 starts this year, he has a .730 save percentage while allowing 1.12 goals per match.


Offense. As evidenced by their 5-1 victory over Michigan State on Friday night, the Zips can score with anyone in the country. Thanks to Egbo, Zajac and company, Akron averages a robust 2.13 goals per match. In addition to leading the conference, that figure places the team 11th in the nation in scoring offense.


Defensive discipline. There aren’t many areas in which Akron hasn’t been terrific this season. But one area that has left a lot to be desired is the discipline on the defensive end. The Zips average 12.52 fouls per match, which ranks 117th in the nation.

Three things to watch

1. Can Akron get one past Maryland’s defense? In 360 minutes of soccer across four NCAA Tournament matches, the Terrapins have yet to allow the opposition to score a single goal. The past two national championship-winning teams, 2016 and 2017 Stanford, ran the table without conceding a score all tournament. Can Maryland keep that streak alive?

2. Who scores first? Since the blown lead against Wisconsin earlier in the season, Maryland is 10-0-0 when scoring the first goal of the match. That streak has been carried through the NCAA Tournament to this point, as the Terrapins have scored first and not allowed any of their opponents to respond. Akron, on the other hand, has won its last eight matches when drawing first blood.

3. Does fatigue play a factor? Akron played in the first semifinal match on Friday night, meaning that the team finished playing about three hours before Maryland’s match finally finished. And because the Zips were winning by a wide margin against Michigan State, nearly all starters were pulled early in the second half of action. The Terrapins, meanwhile, were locked into a tight match, and starters played hard for a full 90 minutes.