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No. 21 Maryland men’s soccer burdened by defensive woes in 3-2 loss to No. 23 Penn State

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The Terps gave up three consecutive goals to start the 2021 season, creating too big of a whole to dig out of.

Photo from @PennStateMSOC

After freshman forward Jacen Russell-Rowe was taken down in the box by Penn State defender Brandon Hackenberg, Maryland men’s soccer had its chance to equalize in the 18th minute after conceding a goal early in the match.

Brayan Padilla stood in the penalty area and stared down Penn State goalkeeper Kris Shakes before striking the ball past the left post and wide of the cage. Padilla had spoiled the golden opportunity and sunk his head in his hands in disappointment as the Terps remained down one on the scoreboard.

The miss would prove costly, as the Nittany Lions applied more pressure in Maryland’s defensive third and put in two more goals past goalie Jamie Lowell in the first half. Despite a comeback push in the second, the Terps eventually fell 3-2 in a poor defensive showing to open the season.

“At the end of the day, I feel like we could have tied this game or even won it, but you have to give Penn State credit, jumped out early and got the result,” Maryland head coach Sasho Cirovski. “So, it’s one game under our belt.”

In the offseason, Maryland lost Matt Di Rosa, who was a key defensive cog for the Terps, to the MLS. The Terps were also without usual starting goalkeeper Niklas Neumann, who was named to the 2019 All-Big Ten Second Team. Both of those subtractions from the lineup clearly had a negative impact on the Terps’ team defense.

Maryland struggled out of the opening gate and couldn’t seem to string together many passes in the midfield, which led to the first goal allowed in the 2021 season.

Penn State applied early pressure on the backline and Maryland defender Isaac Ngobu was forced into a quick turnover on the right wing in a dangerous area, giving the opponent the possession back. Ngobu then committed a hard foul on the right side, giving the Nittany Lions their first chance of the game from about 30 yards out.

The ball was whipped into the box off the free kick but was nicely punched away with two hands by Lowell, but Penn State corralled the rebound off the goalkeeper’s punch and came right back to work inside Maryland’s defensive zone from about 20 yards out.

Penn State midfield Andrew Privett took the ball on the right side off a feed from Peter Mangione and creeped towards the edge of the box with purpose and control. His left-footed strike found its way past Lowell and into the bottom left corner of the goal to give Penn State a 1-0 lead in just the sixth minute.

“Obviously, we got off to a rough start,” Cirovski said. “We played a little low too slow, right into their pressure and gave up kind of a soft goal at the very beginning of the game.”

Ngobu’s turnover proved critical, and the defender struggled on the backend for the majority of the game. The sophomore found himself committing two quick fouls and he was awarded a yellow card in the 16th minute as well.

After Padilla’s missed penalty, Pierre Reedy of Penn State took a few dribbles with space from about 25 yards away in the 25th minute in the Terps’ end and didn’t waste his chance.

Reedy struck the ball like a shot out of a cannon and it flew to the upper right corner of Lowell’s cage off the right-footed hit to give Penn State a two goal lead, which eventually proved too much for Maryland’s comeback efforts.

Penn State opened the flood gates and collected its third goal in just the 34th minute of the match. A cross from the left wing found the head of Daniel Bloyou, who headed it towards the center of the box. The ball found the foot of Mangione, who politely one-tapped the ball into the left side of the goal past Lowell to extend the lead to 3-0.

However, the Terps weren't done just yet after conceding five quick shots on goal from the Nittany Lions in the first half.

Ben Di Rosa, who is playing the first two fixtures for the Terps this season before making the jump to the MLS, lobbed it into the center of the Penn State defensive third to redshirt senior Mike Heitzmann, who was pulled down hard in the box to give the Terps their second penalty attempt in the 40th minute.

Freshman Joe Suchecki calmly stepped into the box for the penalty shot and nailed it into the bottom left corner past Shakes to bring the deficit to 3-1 just before the break, which Maryland desperately needed due its array of poor defensive lapses in the first 45 minutes.

The second half saw more applied pressure from Penn State’s front though, as Maryland continued to struggle defensively.

Lowell was forced to stop a dangerous free kick opportunity from just beyond the box, and then on the ensuring possession, Penn State’s Bloyou had a breakaway chance as he sprinted towards goal off a lob pass, but he chipped it wide right of Maryland’s net in the 50th minute to keep it a 3-1 game.

Maryland eventually struck back in the 73rd minute with a wonderful solo effort from Russell-Rowe, who swiftly side-stepped a defender from about 25 yards away and then knocked in a screamer off his right foot into the left side of the goal. It was just the second shot on goal for the Terps up until that moment.

“We definitely changed our playstyle to attack their backline a lot better,” Maryland defender Brett St. Martin said. “I mean we had chances. We didn’t finish and at the end of the day like if you’re on the road you got to finish your chances and giving up three goals as defender is probably the worst thing you want to see, so getting off to a faster start is definitely something we need to get in the future.”

The Terps put heavy pressure on the Nittany Lions for the final 15 or so minutes and mustered three extra shots on target to try and knot the game. However, the Terps fell short of their comeback as the clock expired, eventually dropping the first game of their 2021 campaign to a strong Penn State squad.

“I thought the second half we were a different team, I thought we played much faster, we put a lot more pressure on them, we got into wide places, we got in behind them,” Cirovski said.

Three Things to Know

1. Maryland’s first half collapse did it in for the rest of the match. After giving up three goals on the defensive end in just five games in 2019, the Terps gave up three goals in the first half against Penn State. It was enough to take the fire out of Maryland early on, even with Suchecki’s penalty kick goal to bring the deficit to 3-1. The Terps will need a much better first half in their second game of the season against Ohio State on Feb. 27.

“We learned that we still have some work to do, as I said it was gonna be a work in progress and I was worried about how we might handle some of Penn State’s pressure and I think it was kind of a perfect storm,” Cirovski said.

2. The Terps may have a star brewing in Russell-Rowe. In the 73rd minute, Russell-Rowe exhibited his talents with an absolute rocket to the right side of the goal from very far away to bring Maryland within one goal. He had a beautiful side step, which led to the beautiful hit strike. If he’s able to have that kind of impact this early on in the season, it’ll be interesting to see how he develops as the season progresses.

“They were excellent, I mean we know how special those kids are. And it was just a matter of time before they stepped out on the pitch and official game,” Maryland forward Paul Bin said about the younger guys, including Russell-Rowe, in their first game. “They were outstanding.”

3. Penn State and Maryland were both very aggressive. It was a very physical game from both teams on the indoor pitch, as the two squads combined for 24 fouls. There were eight yellow cards issued as well through the duration of the match. The aggressive style of play clearly favored the Nittany Lions’ side, as they were eventually the winning side.