In the 57th minute of Maryland men's soccer’s match against No. 14 Cal State Fullerton on Saturday night, midfielder Malcolm Johnston was tackled by a defender and sent to the turf of Ludwig Field.
But before the freshman had to be helped off the field, limping and hardly able to put pressure on his left ankle, he gave the Terps the goal they needed to take down the Titans, 2-0, Saturday night.
“I’m delighted with the performance and am very pleased that we got the victory tonight,” head coach Sasho Cirovski said. “I thought from start to end it was one of our better performances of the year.”
With Maryland ahead 1-0 in the 23th minute, Johnston found himself in the right place at the right time. A free-kick played into the Cal State Fullerton box battered around between a sea of opposing defenders before falling to the foot of freshman, where he managed to sneak it past senior keeper Paul-Andre Guerin to put Maryland soccer up two.
The Terps (6-3-1) continue to show signs of growth offensively, now having scored five goals over their last two matches after being shut-out in an 110 minute match against Wisconsin a week prior.
But Saturday night’s effort was led by senior captain Eli Crognale, converting on a penalty kick in the 20th minute to give Maryland the early lead while playing a perfect ball off the free kick to set up Johnston’s goal. The PK was drawn by Malcolm Johnston, whose pursuit of the ball in the box was rewarded with a takedown that drew the whistle.
“It felt amazing,” Crognale said of his first goal of the season. “I don’t get on the score sheet often, and when you do, it’s a good feeling.”
Maryland’s shot total over the past three games has reached 51 now, by far the most they’ve accumulated over a three-game stretch so far this season. As the Terps venture deeper into Big Ten play, it would appear their offense has finally found their groove at the midseason mark of the season.
Johnston managed to return for the final nine minutes of the match, a huge break in what could’ve been a massive blow to Maryland’s midfielder group. For what feels like the first time all season, the Terps finally caught a break in regard to injuries.
Three Things to Know
1. Tonight’s win marks Maryland’s second ranked victory of the season. After struggling in their first ranked match of the season against Virginia nearly a month ago, the Terps have dispatched each of the last two ranked team’s they’ve faced since.
After a 1-0 win in double overtime over St. John’s earned Maryland its first ranked win of the new season two weeks ago, Saturday’s dominant effort over the Titans gives the Terps their second. With two matches against top-10 teams still on the horizon, Maryland’s improved play against ranked opponent is encouraging for their chances against the likes of Indiana and Georgetown.
“I mean it’s time for people to wake up and understand that we’re the real deal,” Crognale said. “We had a rough start to the season, but we’re here for another national championship.”
2. It was another strong outing for Maryland’s unofficial starting keeper. Despite not being named the team’s official starting keeper by Cirovski, Neumann made his fourth consecutive start for the Terps and was sharp once again. The freshman keeper made five saves and handled everything that came his way, recording his sixth shut-out of the season.
“He was making some huge saves for us,” junior defender Ben Di Rosa said. “Just having him back there is comforting for our back line.”
3. Maryland’s defense put in a solid effort. The Terps shut down Cal State Fullerton’s top scoring threat Christian Pinzon, who leads the Titans with 17 points on the season. The junior forward managed to generate eight shots over the 90 minutes he was on the pitch, but Cirovski’s back line forced most of those attempts on goal to be taken from 20 or more yards out.
“It’s tough to block every shot, so we felt like if he was taking it from out there we trust Niklas [Neumann] to make some saves,” Di Rosa said. “Obviously we don’t wanna let any shots off but if anything we keep it in front of us and we keep it out there.”
Outside of Pinzon’s eight shots, the rest of the Titans only managed 15 for the match, with none of those attempts finding the back of the net. Anchored by some impressive play in the cage, tonight’s defensive effort marks Maryland’s sixth shutout of the season.