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Maryland men’s soccer begins title defense with 1-0 victory over USF

The Terps only scored one goal against the University of South Florida on Thursday, but it was all that was needed in a low-scoring affair.

maryland men’s soccer Maryland Athletics

Midfielder Eli Crognale lined up in the northeast corner of Ludwig Field for a corner kick, eager to give Maryland men’s soccer the edge. His pass found freshman Malcolm Johnston, who headed the ball into the back of the net to put Maryland up 1-0.

Johnston stood in front of the student section with his arms outstretched, soaking in the moment before being surrounded by teammates.

His score would hold for the final 20 minutes of play, giving Maryland the 1-0 victory over the University of South Florida to begin the season.

“I’m delighted to start the season with a win,” head coach Sasho Cirovski said. “Obviously I think we can be a lot sharper in the attack, but that’s a very good South Florida team. They’re young, but they’re very good. That’s a team that’s got NCAA tournament written all over it.”

For Crognale, it was a moment to prove himself as someone deserving of the title of team captain that Sasho Cirovski bestowed upon him before the season. For Johnston, it was a culmination of years of working toward this moment: scoring a goal in his collegiate soccer debut.

The goal came at the 70 minute mark of the second half, a far cry from the near 400 minute drought the Terp offense suffered to begin last season. And given the number of opportunities the attack was able to generate (10 shots, three on goal), its a shock they didn’t put more up on the Bulls.

Maryland’s largely new-look attacking unit looked eager to get on the scoreboard for the first time as a group, registering seven first half shots before finishing the match with 10. Junior captain Eric Matzelevich paced the team with total shots with four, while the Hofstra-transfer Luke Brown managed just one shot in his first match with his new squad.

“I thought Luke had a good performance, he looked more in rhythm today than [he did] in some of the preseason games,” Cirovski said. “The pieces are still sort of connecting to each other.”

After beginning last season winless through the first four matches, Maryland was able to get ahead in the win column in its first match as the No. 1 team in the country.

The Terps’ back line, led by senior captain Johannes Bergmann, looked sharp despite debuting two freshman, Brett St. Martin and goal keeper Russell Shealy, at center back. The combination of Bergmann with Matt and Ben Di Rosa at left and right backs was able to keep their rookie keeper clean for most of the match, allowing just one shot from the Bulls to get on goal.

“I was very happy with [Shealy’s] debut,” Cirovski said. “Everything he had to handle, he handled well.”

Although six freshman saw their first action of the season Thursday night, the Maryland appeared to be the more disciplined team on the pitch. USF committed 16 fouls and received two bookings from the officials, while the young Terps committed just 10 with Ben Di Rosa receiving the team’s lone yellow card.

Crognale, Maryland’s third team captain, looked in control for most of the match, carefully choosing his spots when in possession of the ball in an effort to put his teammates in the best position to succeed. And in a 0-0 match with the team needing someone to step up, Crognale did so with a perfectly placed cross off the corner.

“There were some nerves and some excitement going into [this game] for me,” Crognale said. “I’m happy that we got the win and I was able to get an assist on it.”

Three Things to Know

1, The Terps missed on more than a few opportunities. Although Maryland grabbed the victory, the Bulls were able to keep it close with the Terps because of botched chances at the goal. Chalk some of that up to first match of the season jitters, but you’d hope that the team’s finishing around the net improves as the season wears on.

2. It was a fantastic debut for Malcolm Johnston. After scoring in the team’s exhibition match last week, Johnston followed it up with another one in Thursday’s match. He nearly scored a second goal minutes later, and he could figure to be a key player on Maryland’s midfield this season, especially with sophomore midfielder Will Herve exiting with an injury in the first half.

“I’m here for the team, and whatever the team needs I’m ready to do,” Johnston said. “If [Will Herve] is out and we need someone to step up, I’m more than glad to do so.”

3. The Terps will remain No. 1 in the country ... for now. Despite it only being USF, the Terps took care of business in their first action as the top team in the land, guaranteeing they stay in that spot into next week. It’ll get a lot tougher once they have to face the likes of Virginia and Akron, but they at least passed their first test of the season.