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Maryland men’s soccer Big Ten tournament semifinals preview: No. 1 seed Indiana

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The Terps look to overcome their toughest match of the season after barely advancing past the quarterfinals.

Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics

No. 4 seed Maryland men’s soccer (4-3-2) will be taking on No. 1 seed Indiana Hoosiers in a matchup that decides which team will be heading to the Big Ten tournament finals.

“We’re excited to play Indiana, always one of the marquee matchups of the year,” head coach Sasho Cirovski said. “We think it’s a great challenge and a great opportunity for us and I know I speak for the whole team that we’re excited to to get down there and compete.”

The Terps most recently edged out a win over No. 5 seed Rutgers in penalty kicks, in what was a tight quarterfinal matchup on April 10. Maryland was down 1-0 heading into the late portions of the match, but junior forward Justin Gielen equalized the score with a strike from outside the box in the 82nd minute. After 110 minutes of action, the game ultimately was decided from the penalty spot, and redshirt senior forward Mike Heitzmann tallied the game-winner to send the Terps through to the next round.

“It was a great win, it was a hard fought battle from the beginning,” junior forward Justin Gielen said about the win over Rutgers. “It was great to be able to get out the victory and really just a good morale booster for everyone on the team.”

For the first time this season, Maryland will face the Big Ten’s Goliath in Indiana. The Terps will face the Hoosiers in the Big Ten tournament semifinals for a chance to face either No. 2-seed Penn State or No. 3-seed Michigan on Saturday, April 17 in the championship game.

“I think we’re well prepared... every single game from now on we’ve been saying that we have to play as if it was the finals,” junior midfielder/forward Brayan Padilla said. “So I think the team is prepared for it, we’re not stressing it too much. But at the same time, we’re going to try to put our best effort because it could be our last game.”

Wednesday’s match with Indiana begins at 7:30 p.m. and will air on Big Ten Network. Let’s take a look at what Maryland is up against in the semifinals.

Indiana Hoosiers (8-1)

2019 record: 15-3-4 (7-1 Big Ten)

Head coach Todd Yeagley has been at the helm of the Hoosiers’ coaching staff since 2009 and this is his 11th season as the head coach of the program. He led Indiana to a National Title in just his third season as head coach in 2012. The Hoosiers dominated in 2019, winning both the regular season and conference tournament titles for the 10th time in program history. Indiana finished last year’s strong run as the No. 5 ranked team in the nation. Yeagley has consistently made the Hoosiers a national contender and a Goliath in the Big Ten. Indiana has had a season of dominance this year as well, as the program has dropped just one of its nine matches heading into its semifinal matchup against Maryland.

Players to know

Sophomore forward Victor Bezerra (No. 7) — Bezerra is easily the best attacking option for this talented Hoosiers’ team that has suffered just one defeat. The sophomore has tallied a team-leading eight goals this season, while also chipping in with three assists in eight starts. Bezerra is a threat from just about anywhere in the attacking third, as he also has totaled a team-high 28 shot attempts with 15 shots hitting the target. Bezerra most recently scored two goals in Indiana’s quarterfinals matchup against Northwestern, as he tried a whopping six shot attempts through the full 90 minutes.

Redshirt sophomore forward Ryan Wittenbrink (No. 18) — Wittenbrink is just another strong presence in the attacking third for Indiana. The forward has started in just three games this season, but he has collected the second-most goals and shot totals on the roster through nine games this season. Wittenbrink has gotten hot on the offensive end as of late, as he has tallied all four of his goals in the last four games. He scored two against Rutgers on March 19 and then smashed home the game-winning goal in double overtime against Michigan on March 27. Wittenbrink is heating up and he even tallied another goal in the matchup against the Wildcats on April 10 in the 3-0 victory. Maryland’s defense will need to keep an eye out for Wittenbrink as he’s in fantastic form as of late.

Sophomore defender Brett Bebej (No. 19) — Bebej is a stellar offensive-minded defenseman that does an excellent job contributing from just about anywhere on the pitch. The sophomore has started in eight of Indiana’s nine games this year and he has done just about everything for the team so far. Bebej is tied for third on the team with two goals this season and tied for third on the team in assists with two. He’s an all-around defender that has a very strong feel for play in the attacking third. Despite his 6-foot height, the versatile defender can be a factor from just about anywhere on the field.

Strength

Defense. Indiana is the best defensive team in the Big Ten and if Maryland were to come out with a win in any fashion, it will certainly be during a low scoring contest. Through nine matches, the Hoosiers have conceded just two goals. That wasn’t a typo. The Hoosiers have eight wins and six of them came as shutout victories. Indiana’s defense isn’t one to take lightly and it’s likely that Maryland will struggle to find much room in dangerous areas in the Hoosiers’ defensive third.

Weakness

Discipline. If you gaze upon Indiana’s team statistics, there aren’t many glaring weaknesses. One of the only aspects of Indiana’s game to which it can improve on could be its tendency to commit a fair amount of fouls. The Hoosiers have a committed a total of 86 foul in nine games with a total of 10 yellow cards as well. Don’t be surprised if Maryland tries to lure Indiana into a more physical match come Sunday.

Three things to watch

1. Will Maryland be able to solve Indiana’s stout defense? The Hoosiers have given up just two goals this season through nine matches. In comparison, Maryland conceded three goals in the first half of its season opener against Penn State. Indiana’s defense is one to be feared by its opponents, and the Terps will need their offensive weapons to step up. Without redshirt senior forward Paul Bin in the lineup, Maryland will need to rely on senior forward Eric Matzelevich for the bulk of the work in the attacking third.

“I think Eric [Matzelevich] is going to respond tremendously well, I think he’s excited for this game and for the stage,” Cirovski said. “He’s gonna leave everything out there, there won’t be a play that he ever takes off. He’ll run through a wall for us and that’s kind of effort we’re going to need in this game.”

If the Terps are unable to penetrate Indiana’s back line, they will surely have a tough time advancing to the championship.

2. Can Gielen provide another offensive spark? The junior scored one of the most, if not the most, critical goal of Maryland’s season last time out against Rutgers in the Big Ten tournament quarterfinals. Gielen collected his first goal of the season against the Scarlet Knights and it couldn't have come at a better time, as the goal sent the game to extra time. Gielen’s goal kept the Terps alive and Maryland eventually won in a penalty shootout to advance. The forward has started in just three games this season, but his contributions loom large as he has nabbed a goal and an assist in his last two games. Gielen could be the X-factor against a strong Indiana team.

3. Will Maryland’s momentum from its hard fought quarterfinals victory carry over to Wednesday? The Terps were on the brink of elimination, but they were fortunate enough to close out their quarterfinals matchup with Rutgers in penalties just a few days ago. It was an emotional and gritty win for Maryland, but now the top-seeded team in the conference awaits. Maryland has beaten Michigan and tied with Penn State in the regular season, but neither of those squads are as strong as Indiana. It’ll without a doubt be the toughest match of the season come Wednesday, and the Terps can only hope that their current momentum is enough to spark a win against the conference’s best roster.

“Maryland and Indiana is always going to be a close, bitter fought competition,” Gielen said. “It sucks that we didn’t get to play them in the regular season, but I think that just even more fuels the competition coming into the game on Wednesday.”