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Maryland men’s soccer beats Iona 4-0 in first round of the NCAA Tournament

After facing previous scoring troubles, the Terps’ offense exploded on Thursday night to kick off the tourney.

Sarah Sopher / Testudo Times

Holding a 1-0 lead in the second half of its opening match of the 2019 NCAA Tournament, Maryland men’s soccer was searching for another goal to cement its advancement into the second round.

With thirty minutes remaining and Iona beginning to close in on an equalizer, junior forward Eric Matzelevich suffocated the possibility of a comeback by the Gaels, launching one from over 20 yards out and into the back of the net to put the Terps ahead, 2-0.

Matzelevich lugged the ball single-handedly into the Iona zone, making it as far the edge of the box when the defense began to close in. But before a Gael defender could make a play on the ball, it was already soaring through the brisk, November air and toward the goal, sneaking into the top-right corner to give the Terps breathing room in the 4-0 victory — their most goals scored all season.

“I’m very pleased with the result tonight,” head coach Sasho Cirovski said. “I thought our guys had a great response from our last effort, you could see we had our legs, and after about 15 or 20 minutes we had the energy.”

Maryland jumped out in front just 18 minutes into the match, with sophomore forward Justin Gielen getting the scoring started.

After Iona’s back line deflected a Justin Harris shot away from keeper Guiliano Santucci, junior forward Eric Matzelevich collected the loose ball, seeking another opportunity to strike. He passed it to junior defender Matt Di Rosa, who lofted it into the box where Gielen leaped and headed it onward past Santucci to put Maryland ahead 1-0.

“Justin’s a great competitor,” Cirovski said. “We know he’s very, very good in the air. I think his timing is getting better, but Matt Di Rosa’s cross was really brilliant, and Justin, that was a perfect header ... You can’t draw it up much better than that.”

The Terps continued to produce as the first half went on, a welcome sign for a unit that’s struggled as of late. They finished the half with nine shots as well as six shots on goal, which was more shots on target than they had totaled in their last two matches combined.

Gielen ultimately led the offensive effort in the first half, nearly ramming two more home after his first goal to end the half with three shots — all of which were on goal.

“I think we just got back to what we were doing well three or four weeks ago,” senior forward Luke Brown said. “Most of our chances come from how we press, so we pressed really well today.”

Iona came out in the second half in greater pursuance of an equalizer, pressing a back line that was without St. Martin as well as junior defender Ben Di Rosa for a stretch of play.

Gaels forward Esad Mackic broke free from the Terp back line in the 59th minute of play, finding himself with a one-on-one opportunity with Maryland keeper Niklas Neumann. But when the time came for him to make his strike, Mackic hit the ball wide, ending what would be the Gaels’ best scoring opportunity to score on the evening.

Matzelevich’s goal came a minute later, doubling Maryland’s lead and taking a good deal of the wind out of Iona’s sails. The Terps continued to add to their total as the second half went on, with Johnston being credited with the team’s third goal of the match.

Brown secured a loose ball off a header and sent it on net. Santucci parried it away, but right to Johnston, who deposited it into the back of the net to stretch the lead to 3-0.

Maryland added another in their dominant offensive display in the 82nd, with the final goal of the evening coming off of a foul drawn in the box by the Terps. Cirovski opted for Brown to take the penalty kick, giving the senior an opportunity to score his first goal as a Terp.

“Yeah, finally,” Brown said of his first goal. “That’s the longest time I’ve been without scoring a goal in my life. It’s been tough but I’ve kept chipping away and finally it came.”

Following the whistle from the referee, Brown stepped up and swung it past Santucci for the fourth time of the evening, giving the Englishman his first collegiate goal and the Terps their highest single game goal total of the season to finish things off.

Three Things to Know

1. Iona was without its top player. Due to an NCAA rule in which three postseason yellow cards yields a one-game suspension, sophomore forward Mauro Bravo was ruled ineligible for Thursday night’s match. As the team’s leading scorer with 11 goals this season, Bravo’s presence was missed for the Gaels.

2. It was an easy night for Niklas Neumann. After Indiana put up 22 shots — 12 of which were on target — in the Big Ten Tournament semifinal, Neumann faced just nine shots against Iona and was only forced to make three saves. The Terps’ back line did well to absorb pressure from the Gaels, and the offensive explosion was able to take any wind out of the visitors’ sails.

“He’s a calming influence,” Cirovski said of Neumann’s performance. “He doesn’t get rattled really. I thought the team did a great job in front of him ... he’s been a bright light for us.”

3. Maryland’s offense exploded when it mattered most. After struggling to generate much offense in either of their two Big Ten tournament matches, the Terps were hitting on all cylinders on Thursday night. Along with a season-high four goals on the evening, they put up 16 shots and 10 shots on goal, a strong response with their title defense on the line.

“Every time we get a chance, just capitalize off it,” Matzelevich said of how they plan to sustain offensive success. “Whether it’s like a corner, a shot on target, whatever. Just make the most out of the little opportunities.”