In a rematch of last year’s Big Ten tournament semifinal that was ultimately decided by penalty kicks, this year’s edition appeared to be trending toward a similar finish for Maryland men’s soccer.
But in the 103rd minute of action, the Terps defense that held its opposition scoreless for much of the match finally broke under pressure. As a shot from Indiana Joshua Penn bounded toward goal, it collided with the palm of Maryland junior defender Matt Di Rosa, drawing the whistle from the referee and the dreaded point to penalty spot.
Hoosier sophomore defender Jack Maher stepped up to the spot and fired it into the bottom right corner of the goal, ending the match and Maryland’s Big Ten title hopes with a single swing of the boot in a 1-0 loss.
“We expected to run into a highly motivated and committed IU team, and we did,” head coach Sasho Cirovski said. “It’s as good as I’ve seen them play all year.”
Returning to the same starting eleven that featured junior forward Eric Matzelevich flanked by underclassmen forwards Malcolm Johnston and Justin Gielen that had shown so much promise, the Terps (10-7-2) enjoyed the lion’s share of possession in the early going, though failing to capitalize with zero shots on goal after 15 minutes of action.
“I thought we started brightly in the first 15 minutes,” Cirovski said. “I thought we were playing well, it looked like we were on pace for a good performance ... and then IU just took over.”
All night long, freshman keeper Niklas Neumann continued to hold down the Terp back line, even as his team’s defending began to break down.
As Indiana forward Herbert Endeley beared down on the goal, he launched one off his left foot that looked destined for the back of the net. But at the last possible moment, Neumann shot his left mitt into the air to parry it away, keeping the score level.
Neumann came up big once again minutes later as well, though aided by the effort of Di Rosa. After a ball played through the box reached the back post of the goal, Indiana forward Joshua Penn stared down an essentially wide open net with an opportunity to put his team ahead.
However, as Di Rosa camped next to the goal post, Penn’s effort came directly to the junior right back, who cleared it off the line and into the grasp of Neumann to end the threat.
“It’s getting better and better,” Neumann said of the communication with the back line. “Matty makes a great save on the goal line and that’s not the first time that has happened, like Matty and Ben do an outstanding job all season long to make those saves and it makes it a lot easier as a goalkeeper.”
Both clubs went into the halftime break tied at 0-0, but Indiana began to look the part of the better team on the field as the match progressed.
The Terp defense continued to unravel into the second period, as the Hoosiers inched closer towards going ahead with seemingly each opportunity generated. Eclipsing double-digit shots in the match’s 46th minute, Indiana continuously mounted pressure on Neumann and Co., who went on to surpass his career-high in saves in the second half’s opening minutes.
“I felt kind of in a zone,” Neumann said. “It’s always kind of like that when you’re playing but sometimes you just feel it a little bit differently ... But you’re just getting so confident that you’re just saying to yourself that they can shoot whatever they want and you’re gonna be there.”
But even as Hoosiers continued to pile up offensive chances, Neumann refused to falter from his spot in the net, tallying acrobatic save after acrobatic save to keep the Terps in it up until the end of regulation. As the freshman keeper collected his eighth save of the evening, Maryland found itself in a position to steal a win with a free kick opportunity from five yards outside the box.
With Eli Crognale standing over the ball, the senior captain failed to do what he had done time and time again this season, as his shot from 20 yards out slammed against the Indiana wall as time expired, sending this one to extra time.
And though the No. 5-seeded Terps managed to create space more effectively for themselves into the two overtime periods, Indiana sunk them in the same fashion in which Maryland defeated its previous opponent.
“We’re a different team than last year,” Cirovski said of the mindset entering the NCAA tournament. “I’m so pleased with how hard our guys are working and the effort they’re putting in and finding different ways to win. I have nothing but love for my team.”
Three Things to Know
1. Friday’s match was the opposite of the last meeting of these two teams. In a match that saw the Terps jump out to a commanding 3-0 lead prior to the game’s 30th minute mark, the Maryland offense struggled to find the holes in Indiana’s defense in Friday’s match.
The Terps only managed six shots and two shots on goal, compared to eight shots and seven shots on goal in their Oct. 18 match. Defensively, the Hoosiers lit up the Terp defense to the tune of 22 shots and 12 shots on goal, after holding its opposition without a shot on goal the last time out.
“They were just clean from front to back,” Gielen said. “I really gotta commend how they came out and how they prepared for this game. They just seemed like a solid group and they just did everything well.”
2. Maryland drops its first two consecutive matches at home all season. For a team that had defended their home field well, both historically and throughout this season, the Terps have finally proven mortal on the pitch at Ludwig. Friday’s loss to Indiana marks just the first time this season that Maryland has lost multiple games in a row in College Park, though it will still finish off the 2019 season with a 8-4-0 record at home.
3. The Terps couldn’t find anyone to step up in this one. Neumann’s herculean performance aside, Friday night’s match would ultimately prove not to be one in which Maryland would be bailed out by a crucial score down the stretch. Though the likes of Crognale, Matzelevich, and a host of others have done so in the past, none of them managed to find that crucial strike to give Maryland a shot at advancing in this one.