In its penultimate game of the 2019 regular season, Maryland men’s soccer will hit the pitch at Jeffrey Field in Happy Valley on Tuesday night.
The Terps will be looking to improve to 4-1-2 in conference play, a result that would put them in second place in the conference behind only No. 10 Indiana. A win would also mark the 25th victory all-time against Penn State, as well as Maryland’s ninth consecutive win over Nittany Lions since 2005.
Penn State enters Tuesday’s match undefeated over its last four matches, outscoring opponents 13-5 during that span. Coming off a 4-0 win against Appalachian State last Friday night, the Nittany Lions have raised their level of play as the season has gone on.
No. 19 Penn State Nittany Lions (9-2-3, 4-1-1 Big Ten)
Head coach Jeff Cook has already made significant strides towards returning Penn State soccer to its former glory in just his second season with the team, leading the Nittany Lions to their best start since 2014. Appearing in the Top-25 for the first time since 2015 this season as well, Cook already has Penn State’s soccer program trending in the right direction early in his tenure.
Players to Know
- Senior forward Aaron Molloy (No. 8) is in the middle of his most productive season in a Penn State uniform in his final year with the team, leading all players in points with eight goals and three assists through 12 games. Part of the All-Big Ten Second Team last season and a Preseason All-Big Ten honoree entering 2019, the senior from Ireland is the clear cut leader of this Lions squad.
- Redshirt junior defender Brandon Hackenberg (No. 3) has been a defensive stalwart on the Nittany Lion defense for the second consecutive season, making 27 starts on the back line since the beginning of 2018. Playing a key role in each of Penn State’s five clean sheets so far this season, Hackenberg is the glue that holds Cook’s defensive unit together.
- Freshman forward Liam Butts (No. 7), a freshman phenom out of a Lawrenceville, Georgia, has burst onto the scene for the Nittany Lions in his debut season, scoring seven goals on only 16 shots. Butts is a budding offensive talent for Penn State who figures to play a large role in Cook’s offensive units for the next three seasons.
Scoring offense. Part of how Cook’s managed to turn the program around has been the offensive resurgence its enjoyed for the better part of the 2019 campaign. Fueled in large part by Butts and Molloy’s offensive production, the Penn State offense ranks in the Top-50 in scoring in Division I this season and has continued to improve as the season has progressed.
Defending in the final third (as of late). Though Penn State has managed to go on a run over the last four games, it has been mostly on the backs of its offensive production. The Lions rank 98th in Division I in goals allowed against average, while conceding in five of their last six matches.
Three Things to Watch
1. Will Cirovski stick with the same starting 11? Through the better part of Maryland’s early season slate of matches, head coach Sasho Cirovski tinkered with his starting lineups from game-to-game.
But Cirovski has trotted out the same eleven players in each of the team’s last three games, toggling between 5-3-2 and 4-3-3 formations that have made Maryland’s defense impenetrable as of late. And it’s paid massive dividends so far, as Maryland has won each of its last three games and has outscored its opponents 6-0 over that span.
2. Can Maryland extend its opposition’s scoreless streak? Maryland’s 2-0 shutout win over Ohio State last Friday night punctuated the team’s longest opponent scoreless streak of the season, going almost 305 minutes without allowing a goal. Terp fans remember the run Maryland’s defense managed to go on at the end of last season, and the defense as of late has looked reminiscent of such.
3. Can Maryland further close the gap on Indiana? After getting off to a 1-1-2 start in Big Ten play to begin the season, the Terps have won both of their last two conference matches to elevate themselves to the third spot in the Big Ten. A win over Penn State would put them behind only Indiana, which faces Ohio State and Michigan State in its final two games of the season.
Maryland has been faced with an uphill climb back to the top of the conference, but seems to have creeped its way into contending for this season’s Big Ten regular season title.