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Maryland men’s soccer Big Ten tournament quarterfinals preview: No. 5 seed Rutgers

The Terps are in solid form as they face their first opponent of the Big Ten tournament in College Park.

Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics

No. 4 seed Maryland men’s soccer (4-3-1) will take on No. 5 seed Rutgers (4-4) in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten tournament at Ludwig Field in College Park Saturday afternoon. The Terps are hunting for their fourth win in their last five matches as they head into the postseason.

“Looking forward to the game on Saturday... obviously, it was disappointing not to be able to play last weekend,” head coach Sasho Cirovski. “We’re excited to have a chance to play Rutgers in the quarterfinals. I think the way that the season started was tough for us and now to be able to be in a position to host a quarterfinal game is an exciting prospect for our team right now.”

Maryland dropped its first three matches of the season, but have since beaten Wisconsin, Michigan, Michigan State and Northwestern en route to a fourth place finish in the Big Ten standings for the regular season.

Last time out, Cirovski and the Terps conceded a late goal to Penn State and finished the match in a 2-2 draw after two overtime periods in College Park back on March 31. Maryland’s last regular season match, which was supposed to be against Indiana on April 4, was cancelled due to a lack of healthy players not related to COVID-19.

After collecting points in five straight matches, the Terps will look to start a long Big Ten tournament run against the Scarlet Knights.

“We’re buzzing, we got a bunch of nice weather this week and mood is really high around the team, excited to get into postseason,” junior defender Brett St. Martin said.

Saturday’s match starts at 1 p.m. and will be televised on BTN Plus.

What happened last time

Maryland was supposed to face Rutgers for the second time on March 23, however, that match was cancelled due to a matter unrelated to COVID-19.

As a result of the cancellation, the Terps took on Rutgers only once this season in their third match of the year on March 3, after Maryland dropped its first two games of the year to Penn State and Ohio State.

Maryland’s offense was going through a clear rut just a few games into its season, which only seemed to continue against the Scarlet Knights on the road.

The Terps didn’t generate much in the first half against Rutgers’ back line, as they collected just four shot attempts through the first 45 minutes. Rutgers, on the other hand, scored the first goal in the opening eight minutes of the match and managed nine shot attempts on freshman goalie Jamie Lowell in the first half.

Maryland had its golden opportunity come in the 52nd minute of the match, though. Junior defender Thomas DeVizio of the Scarlet Knights was handed a red card, giving the Terps a man-advantage for the remaining 38 minutes of the match.

Despite being a man-up the rest of the way, Maryland’s offense remained very stagnant. While the Terps finished with 11 total shot attempts in the second half, they couldn’t find a way to put one into the back of the net.

Then in the 62nd minute, Rutgers put the game away with a critical blow from senior forward Ritchie Barry. Barry was able to strike a free kick past Lowell into the upper left corner of the goal from 22 yards out to give the senior his second goal of the match and the Scarlet Knights a 2-0 lead.

For the remainder of the match, Maryland was forced to play catch-up and couldn’t muster a goal as time expired. It was the third straight match that the Terps had dropped to open the season.

What’s happened since

Maryland has come a long way since mid-February, to say the least.

The Terps were outscored 6-2 in their three straight losses to open the season, with the third loss coming in that deflating 2-0 defeat against Rutgers. But, a tight 1-0 victory over Wisconsin in early March sparked Maryland’s run toward the top half of the Big Ten table.

With its wins over Michigan, Michigan State and then Northwestern, Maryland propelled itself into fourth place in the standings. And despite the Terps tying Penn State in their regular season finale, Cirovski and his squad has picked up points in bunches over their last five matches.

The Terps are in strong form right now, led by the efforts of redshirt senior forward Paul Bin, and will now look to take down Rutgers come Saturday.

Looking at the fifth-seeded Rutgers, the program has hit a bit of a rut despite some early season success.

The Scarlet Knights rattled off three wins in their first four matches. They took defeated the likes of Michigan State, Wisconsin and then Maryland en route to a 3-1 record. However, Rutgers suffered three straight losses after its win against the Terps.

Even though the losses came against the top three teams in the Big Ten in Penn State, Michigan and Indiana, the Scarlet Knights were outscored 8-2 over that losing streak.

Rutgers did bounce back, though, beating Northwestern on the road in its regular season finale, 1-0.

Maryland is certainly in better form than Rutgers is at the moment, but the Scarlet Knights’ shutout win over the Wildcats on April 4 should boost the program’s mood come Saturday.

“In the Big Ten, anyone can beat anyone, we’ve seen that across the board,” St. Martin said. “We’re taking every game seriously, but at the back of our minds, we’re always thinking like we’re the best team in the Big Ten and we’re here to win this whole thing.”

Three things to watch

1. Will Bin and Ben Bender continue to lead Maryland offensively? It can be argued that both Bin and the freshman midfielder Bender have been the best players on the pitch for the Terps as of late. Bin collected the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week honors in late March after scoring three goals over the span of three games. The senior most recently tallied an assist against Northwestern on March 27 and drew two penalties against Penn State on March 31. Bender, on the other hand, has been a spark plug for Maryland’s offense as well. The freshman has scored in two straight games for the Terps and has been a strong asset in the attacking third. Both Bin and Bender have been key cogs for Maryland’s attacking play and their performances will be critical come Saturday.

2. Which players are healthy enough to play against the Scarlet Knights? Besides Maryland’s winless start through its first three matches, the biggest storyline has been the team’s mounting injuries throughout the campaign.

“It definitely sucks that how injured we have been this year,” redshirt senior forward Mike Heitzmann said. “But I mean, we’re definitely hitting our stride here and I think we’ve figured some things out as a team and it doesn’t matter who’s going to be on the field.”

Starting sophomore goalie Niklas Neumann hasn’t started since the match against Michigan State on March 19. Freshman forward Jacen Russell-Rowe, who has two goals this season, also hasn’t played since that match as well. Senior forward Eric Matzelevich is still working his way back to form after sitting out Maryland’s match against Penn State. It’s been a season of injuries for the Terps, and it’ll be important to see who trots out onto the pitch this weekend for Cirovski’s squad.

“Of course we’ve dealt with some health issues, but I think we’ll be in a good place on Saturday,” Cirovski said. “So I think our guys are excited.”

3. Can Maryland bounce back after its late collapse against Penn State? Maryland looked as though it would finish the regular season with five straight wins after the first 62 minutes against Penn State, holding a 2-1 lead over the Nittany Lions with less than 30 minutes remaining. But just when Maryland thought it would get that fifth straight win, Penn State delivered a major blow, finding the back of the net in the 86th minute to tie the game at 2-2 and push it to overtime. The match finished in a tie and it was clearly one that got away from Maryland. It’ll be interesting to see if the Terps have any lingering effects on the pitch from the disappointing result from their final match of the regular season.