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No. 25 Maryland men’s soccer vs. Northwestern preview

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The Terps look to stretch their home win streak to four in their first Big Ten matchup of the season

Maryland soccer vs virginia Sarah Sopher / Testudo Times

Off to one of its best starts at home in almost 20 years, Maryland men’s soccer will look to continue its dominance at Ludwig Field against Northwestern this Friday night.

The Terps have begun the season with three consecutive clean sheets at home, the first time a Sasho Cirovski-led team has done so since 1999.

Doing so on the backs of two freshman keepers in Russell Shealy and Niklas Neumann, the Terp back line of Matt and Ben Di Rosa, Johannes Bergmann and Brett St. Martin have played incredibly sharp defensively at Ludwig, allowing just five total shots on goal over the first three matches.

“I’m very pleased with where the team’s at,” Cirovski said. “I love our commitment defensively, I love our approach to everything. I think this team has continued to get better, we’re going to keep getting better and that’s exactly how I want it to be.”

The running series between the Terps and Wildcats is still relatively fresh, having only played one another five times with Maryland leading the all-time series 3-2. But there’s no lack of familiarity between either club, as the two have played each of the last five seasons, including a come from behind Maryland win last season in which midfielder Will Hervé scored twice in the final 15 minutes to secure a 2-1 victory.

Northwestern Wildcats (3-3, 0-0 Big Ten)

2018 record: 6-9-5 (0-5-3 Big Ten)

Head coach Tim Lenahan still pursues the College Cup crown that’s proven elusive over his 18 seasons at Northwestern, making nine appearances in the NCAA tournament but never advancing beyond the quarterfinal round.

Although amassing over 155 victories and multiple Big Ten titles during his tenure, Lenahan hasn't led his club to the postseason in over five years, playing sub-.500 ball in each season over that period. But with an upperclassmen-heavy squad this year, he’ll be looking to buck that trend.

“Northwestern is a very organized, well-coached, highly disciplined team. They don’t beat themselves,” Cirovski said. “They’re a good team, every year they knock off one or two top teams and they return nine players from last year’s starting group, so it’s a team that I think has a lot more belief. So they’re a tough team.”

Players to know

  1. Sophomore midfield Richie Bennett (No. 5) was one of three Wildcats to receive All-Big Ten preseason honors — doing so on the strength of his freshman season in which logged over 1,700 minutes. In 2019, Bennett has embraced a larger share of the Northwestern offense, sitting at second on the team in total shots (8) and also tied for second in goals (1).
  2. Sophomore midfield Bardia Kimiavi (No. 7) paces the Wildcat offense alongside Bennett, with two goals in the team’s first six games. As the current leader of the team in shots, Lenahan has shown no reservations in relying on his two young midfielders to shoulder the offensive load.
  3. Junior defender Garrett Opperman (No. 4) has been a staple of Lenahan’s defense since his freshman season, leading the team in minutes played in 2017 and 2018, while never missing a start over that span. As one of two upperclassmen Northwestern has at the position, Opperman will be relied upon to anchor the back line once again in 2019.

Strength

Shutting out opponents. Similarly to the Terps, Northwestern did a solid job at shutting out its opposition last season The Wildcats’ 45 percent clean sheet percentage in 2018 ranked 24th in the country and was the third best in the conference. The Wildcats thrive in low scoring contests and will likely try to make Friday night’s match into an ugly, gut-it-out match.

Weakness

Scoring offense. With their defense being the crux of their game plan, the Wildcats struggle to consistently produce on the offensive end. Scoring just 1.2 goals per game last season, Northwestern finished 136th in Division I and seventh in the Big Ten in scoring offense. Given the strength of the Terp defense, Friday night’s match could come down to which team can effectively create and execute offensively.

Three things to watch for

  1. How will Will Hervé perform in his return? After missing the previous four matches with a muscle injury, the sophomore midfielder/forward is expected to make his return to the pitch in Friday night’s contest. Hervé had three goals and three assists 2018, and had his most impressive showing of the season against Northwestern. He’ll likely be eased back into action, but could have an impact on the match given the chance.
  2. Can Eli Crognale last a full 90 minutes? The senior has experienced the added toll that comes with being a team captain so far this season, having to exit early from the the team’s previous two matches due to injury.

“I tend to get fouled a lot, it’s just how I play,” Crognale said “I was just really unlucky to get knocked in my calves as much as I did.”

Cirovski mentioned during the week that he believes Crognale has just been overworking himself and his premature departures have been solely precautionary measures, but Crognale’s health may end being something to monitor as the season progresses.

3. Can Luke Brown get back into the swing of things? Also returning from injury this week was senior grad transfer Luke Brown, who had missed the past three games with a hip injury suffered against Virginia. Brown scored 19 goals in his three year career at Hofstra, including six in his junior season before transferring to Maryland, making him one of the more menacing scoring threats on the team.

“My game has always been getting into the box and scoring goals, so I feel like I can add a lot of goals to this team,” Brown said. “Now in my fourth year [of college] I know how it works, I know what the schedule is like, and just being able to speak to the younger guys and help them through I think is a big positive for me and for them.”