SANTA BARBARA, Calif. — Maryland men’s soccer has done it. With a 1-0 win over Akron in Sunday’s College Cup final, the Terrapins are 2018 national champions.
In the 57th minute, Amar Sejdic placed the ball on the penalty kick spot 12 yards from the goal, walked back, and gathered himself. After a few breaths, the senior captain ran towards Ben Lundt and kicked a soft shot towards the left side of the box. Lundt dove to the right.
On the biggest stage of all, No. 11-seed Maryland earned its 11th straight victory when drawing first blood. The Terrapins controlled for the majority of the match, outshooting Akron by a 15-10 margin and registering eight shots on goal to the Zips’ two.
Maryland played on the front foot for nearly all of the opening half, withstanding Akron’s early control in possession to pressure the Zips’ back line. In his final match as a member of the Terrapins, Sejdic was the focal point of the attack in the early going. The senior captain had three of the team’s first four shots on the night, and they all came within a 20-minutes stretch. But the Terps struggled to find a ton of room to get off quality shots in the opening period. Of their eight first-half shots, three were blocked inside the box, and that played a large part in Akron’s ability to keep Maryland off the scoreboard.
However, Maryland had a tremendous scoring chance in the 41st minute of play. Chase Gasper, playing farther up the wing than his normal left back position, received an Eli Crognale pass and drove up the sideline. He put a through ball in to DJ Reeves, who shook his defender and fired a shot towards the right post. But Lundt used every inch of his 6’6 frame to quickly dive to the ground, and with his outstretched left arm, he just got his hand on the ball and keep it out of the back of the net.
The Terrapins came out firing after halftime, and play continued in Akron’s defensive side of the pitch with regularity. In the 57th minute, Maryland took a free kick. The ball was headed by various players in the box, and it eventually caromed towards the left edge of the field. Johannes Bergmann was about to gain possession when Colin Biros’ cleat struck him in the face.
Bergmann fell to the ground in pain, but his sacrifice wasn’t for naught. The referee blew his whistle and pointed toward Lundt, signaling a penalty kick. Sejdic, Maryland’s senior captain, took it upon himself to give his team the only lead it would need. He delivered, and the Terps had a 1-0 advantage on the scoreboard with just over 30 minutes to play.
Akron’s electrifying offense didn’t lose its fight. In fact, conceding a goal gave them a new sense of energy. The Zips had a ton of chances, but Dayne St. Clair and the back line held strong each time. After Matt Di Rosa was tackled inside the box, Sejdic had another penalty kick opportunity. He tried to deke out Lundt with a stutter step, and he shot exactly where he had the previous time. However, the goalkeeper made a diving stop and kept the score within one.
The Zips’ final blow came in the 81st minute, when Carlo Ritaccio took out DJ Reeves on a breakaway. He was called for a red card, sending the defender off the field. Now playing with 10 on the field, Akron’s hopes of a comeback were all but dashed.
Less than 10 minutes later, Maryland had become the new kings of soccer once again.
Three things to know
1. The Terrapins are champions. Through all the struggles that came during the regular season—including not scoring a goal for the first 476 minutes of the year—Maryland has run the table in the NCAA Tournament. After surprising many by earning a No. 11 seed, the Terps defeated North Carolina State, No. 6 Duke, No. 3 Kentucky, No. 2 Indiana and finally Akron in the final match of the season. For the first time in 10 years, the Terrapins are kings of college soccer.
2. Maryland scored first. Amar Sejdic scored the first goal of the season for Maryland in a 1-0 victory over West Virginia on Sept. 10. In the final match of the season, he scored to give Maryland a 1-0 victory. The Terrapins scored first in all five of their NCAA Tournament matches, and including the regular season, they won their last 11 matches when scoring first.
3. The back line didn’t allow a goal. On Sunday, Maryland held one of the best offenses in the country scoreless. Entering the match, Akron averaged 2.13 goals per game on offense, and in the NCAA Tournament, that number jumped to three per contest. But the Zips could not beat the Terps’ back line, and throughout the entirety of the tournament, Maryland did not concede a single goal. That’s how championships are won.