Looking to keep its three-game winning streak alive against Northwestern, Maryland men’s soccer was finally able to break the ice for its first goal in the 48th minute.
The Terps were awarded a corner and redshirt senior forward Mike Heitzmann whipped a cross into the center of Northwestern’s box. The bouncing ball made its way through a crowd of Wildcats and eventually found the feet of freshman midfielder Ben Bender, who took a hit with his left foot inside the box. The low strike flew towards Northwestern’s goal and went into the center of the net to officially give Maryland a one goal lead as the team happily celebrated Bender’s first goal of his Terp career.
The freshman’s goal proved critical and quickly led to a second goal as the Terps went on to take down Northwestern, 2-1, in Evanston, Illinois, Saturday afternoon.
“Overall, it’s a great three points,” Maryland head coach Sasho Cirovski said. “Our guys did the job, we made it interesting at the end again... but in the end, we get the three points and I’m delighted.”
The Terps are now 4-3 on the season after starting the year with three straight losses. Maryland has conceded just three goals during its four-game win streak and is outscoring its opponents 7-3 over that stretch.
Maryland sits in the top-four of the Big Ten standings, trailing the likes of Indiana, Penn State and Michigan with just two scheduled games left on the regular season calendar.
The match started out fairly slowly as both sides struggled to generate any kind of opportunities in their opponents’ attacking third, but Maryland controlled most of the early possession as it looked to get off on the right foot in its seventh game of the season.
The attacking play didn’t have much room to work with in the middle of the field, as most of Maryland’s possession was forced to the outside by Northwestern’s defensive structure in the first 10 minutes of the match.
Maryland had its first real chance in the 15th minute, as Heitzmann sent a through ball towards the right sideline to a streaking redshirt sophomore midfielder/defender Nick Richardson, who crossed the ball in on the ground into Northwestern’s box. The hard pass that never left the air found the feet of Paul Bin, who hit the ball first-time from just inside the box and sailed it over the Wildcats’ cage as the Terps’ first shot attempt was wasted.
The Terps continued to press with Northwestern’s end, as Bin had another golden opportunity just a few minutes later. The captain found a loose ball just within Northwestern’s penalty area and took another strike with his left foot, but once again the ball flew over the cage as the game remained scoreless in the 18th minute.
Northwestern seemed content to defend in its own end for the majority of the half, as Maryland attempted the first three shot attempts of the game, but none of those shots hit the target. Northwestern didn’t register a shot attempt until the 27th minute of the match.
The Wildcats’ counter attack almost broke through in the 38th minute, as brilliant passing inside the Terps’ box led to a deflected ball in front of the net and freshman goalie Jamie Lowell, which actually found its way over the goal line after hitting a Terp. However, the offside flag was raised and the play was nullified.
The Terps continued to control the majority of the possession late in the half, but they weren’t able to tally a goal after five shot attempts. Both sides finished the opening 45 minutes with six combined shots, with none hitting the target for either squad.
The start of second half saw Maryland continue its push for the opening goal of the match.
Bender then went on to score his first goal of the season to give Maryland the lead in the 48th minute, and shortly after the first tally of the match, the Terps swiftly added on to its one-goal lead.
Bin made a quick side-step move with the ball towards the top of Northwestern’s penalty area and then laid a pass off to a darting sophomore midfielder in Malcolm Johnston in the 52nd minute. Johnston collected the ball and smashed home his first goal of the season from the top of the box, as the strike went into the left side of the goal to push Maryland’s lead to 2-0.
The Terps’ two quick goals were a crushing blow to Northwestern’s efforts, however, it seemed to be a long time coming for Maryland’s offense. The Terps came out with the first six shots of the second half, and five of those attempts hit the net.
The Wildcats answered with some strong attacking play, though they didn’t tally a shot on goal until the 71st minute. The attempt was a good one, though, and it forced Lowell to make a diving save toward the bottom-right portion of the Terps’ net after a Northwestern player volleyed a ball on net.
The Wildcats then put one past Lowell in the 81st minute, as a strike from the center of the box found its way past the freshman goalkeeper to bring Maryland’s lead back to one.
Maryland sweated out its seventh match of the season due to Northwestern’s strong comeback attempt in the final nine minutes, but the clock eventually expired to give the Terps their fourth victory of the season.
Three Things to Know
1. Maryland’s defense had another strong showing. In their first three matches, the Terps conceded a total of six goals, with half of those tallies coming in the season opener against Penn State. Since then, Maryland has won four games and given up just three goals in the process. Northwestern was able to muster just eight shot attempts with three of those tries landing on target. Maryland’s defense restricted Northwestern’s attack for the majority of the match and the Terps’ defense just continues to improve as they head towards the latter half of the season.
“Our backline is really connected and playing well,” Cirovski said. “The backline has been very solid. I think they’re getting stronger every day and I thought all four had a good game today as well.”
2. Bin and Bender were focal points for the Terps’ offense. Bin, who nabbed Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week, continued his strong presence in the attacking third. He finished with three total shot attempts after the full 90 minutes and tallied an assists on Bender’s goal. Bender connected on his first goal of the season and showed out with another solid performance.
“It was awesome to see Ben Bender get his first goal, he’s been close so many times, just very happy for him,” Cirovski said.
The freshman collected three shot attempts for the Terps through the first 45 minutes and then added one more shot in the second half.
“Ben (Bender) is probably our most creative player,” Cirovski said. “He just has a real feel, you know, he can break pressure, he can cross the ball, he can shoot the ball, he’s just starting to understand the physicality of the college game.”
3. Despite being ravaged by injuries, Maryland collects more points. Freshman forward Jacen Russell-Rowe was forced to sit on the sidelines for the match against Northwestern. Maryland’s starting goalie, sophomore goalie Niklas Neumann, was also on the bench due to an injury that was announced just prior to the game. Even with those critical injuries, Maryland added another three points to its resume as it continues to climb the Big Ten standings.