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No. 23 Maryland men’s soccer Big Ten tournament preview: Northwestern

The Terps look for a shot at revenge as they face off against the Wildcats in the first round of the Big Ten tournament.

Matt Di Rosa Maryland men’s soccer vs Northwestern Sarah Sopher / Testudo Times

With consecutive losses to Penn State and Michigan, No. 23 Maryland men’s soccer suddenly finds itself in a much less favorable position now then they did two weeks ago.

Once the No. 17 team in the nation and vying for the Big Ten regular season crown, the Terps’ losses dropped them six spots in the latest United Soccer Coaches poll and into the sixth spot in the Big Ten, forcing them to play on the road in the first game of the Big Ten tournament against fifth-seeded Northwestern (8-7-2, 3-3-2 Big Ten).

Maryland (9-6-2, 3-3-2) still should be in a strong enough position to earn an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament, sitting within the Top-25 in the Division I rankings, as well as the NCAA’s RPI rankings with wins over four ranked opponents this season.

But a first round exit from the Big Ten tournament and three straight losses to end the regular season will only make the Terps’ road back to the College Cup more difficult than it already has become.

Sunday’s semifinal will kick-off at 2:00 p.m. and can be streamed on BTN+ ($).

What’s happened last time

On Sept. 20, Maryland’s play against Northwestern was one of the worst performances it’s had all season, especially on the defensive end of the pitch.

After having won each of their last three matches against the Wildcats, the Terps found themselves tied in the 55th minute thanks to a 20-yard strike from freshman forward Brayan Padilla finding the back of the net.

But Maryland conceded scores two more times in the second half, culminating in a 3-1 loss and a performance head coach Sasho Cirovski could only refer to as “an uncharacteristic home, Friday night effort for us.”

What’s happened since

The uncharacteristic performance appeared to light a spark within the Terps following the loss, as they would go on to shut-out the No. 11 scoring offense and the No. 9 team in the country in St. John’s in their next match, thanks to a last-second goal from Brett St. Martin with only 45 seconds remaining in the match. They would go on to on to rattle off five straight results and wouldn’t concede more than once in a single match over their next nine.

“I think we got better from that game and I think we went on a pretty good run after that,” Cirovski said. “I’m excited for another chance at Northwestern. Whenever you lose to a team in the regular season you hope for a shot in the playoffs, and we have another shot so we have a great opportunity.”

The streak of results would come to an end when the Terps fell 1-0 to Georgetown on Oct. 14, but Maryland would respond once again with wins over No. 6 Indiana and No. 24 Yale to fully establish itself as a force in the conference and in Division I. But losses in each of its last two has put that claim in jeopardy.

The Wildcats failed to capitalize on the momentum after taking down the Terps, barely keeping pace at .500 with a 4-4-2 record following the victory. They would, however, come away with four results in conference play, to check in at 5th in the Big Ten.

Three Things to Know

1. Will Maryland be able to respond following two disappointing results? The Terps have shown an aptness to respond after poor performances, with their losses to Penn State and Michigan being one of two times they’ve lost consecutive games all season. Set up with a shot at avenging its loss to Northwestern from earlier this year, Maryland should be plenty pumped up for this one.

“It’s the second season right now,” junior forward Eric Matzelevich said. “Now it’s just a totally different type of season, so we’re super excited for it ... we’re trying to find our new identity within the postseason and hopefully we can do the same thing we did last year.”

2. Can the Terp defense improve its box defending? After allowing Penn State and Michigan to feast aerially over its last two, Cirovski mentioned that Maryland’s box defending and capably heading the ball away from danger was going to be a focal point going into the Big Ten tournament and the NCAA tournament. With teams likely to press the Terps with crosses into the box, Maryland will need to quickly turn around its play defensively to keep themselves in games.

“We’re training on it a lot,” sophomore defender Brett St. Martin said. “I think we really just should get back to our defending like we did midway through the season that we had, we had a good run of streaks where we had clean sheets and we we’re really going hard defensively and putting in the work to get shutouts.”

3. Who will suit up? The Michigan game match saw a host of Terps miss time on the field due to injury/illness, with freshman midfielder David Kovacic (illness), sophomore forward Justin Gielen (concussion), freshman midfielder Malcolm Johnston (lower body injury) and Will Hervé (long-term lower body injury) all being among those afflicted.

Cirovski wouldn’t provide specific details on who would or wouldn’t suit up, but sounded optimistic about the statuses of the underclassmen and stated in the past that Hervé’s eventual return could be around Big Ten tournament play.