With just 35 seconds in regulation, Maryland men's soccer fell apart in the closing moments in a win-or-go-home situation.
The clock was beginning to wind down and overtime was creeping up on both squads until a lofted cross found the feet of Bears’ sophomore forward Jon Koka, who was alone and streaking toward freshman goalie Jamie Lowell. Koka made no mistake with his breakaway and kicked home the game-winning goal to give Missouri State a 2-1 lead in the dying moments of regulation.
Missouri State’s last-minute goal led to a 2-1 loss for Maryland Sunday afternoon, as the Terps officially got bounced from the second round of the NCAA Tournament at UNCW Soccer Stadium in North Carolina.
“I’m absolutely gutted for all of our players. We battled with a lot of pride and had an opportunity to steal this game,” Maryland head coach Sasho Cirovski said. “Missouri State is an outstanding team and we did everything necessary to win the game until the last five minutes of the game.”
The Terps had a 1-0 lead very briefly late in the game in their 20th straight NCAA Tournament appearance, but it faltered late to the Bears in what was a thriller of a match. It was the first all-time meeting between Missouri State and Maryland, with the Bears collecting the victory and advancing to the next round of the tournament.
Maryland started out the match dropping back against Missouri State’s heavy attacking press. The first few minutes of the game saw the Bears attempt the first two shots of the game towards Lowell as both sides searched for the opening goal.
Right from the get-go, it was clear that Missouri State wasn’t content on sitting back in its own defensive third, as it gave the Terps limited room in the mid-field. The early portions of the first half resulted in a significant amount of possession for the Bears.
Missouri State registered three shots and one shot on target before Maryland even attempted a shot on Bears’ redshirt senior goalie Michael Creek.
The Terps’ first quality attempt came from junior forward Brayan Padilla in the 24th minute, who shanked a left-footed shot from just outside the Bears’ box that sailed wide-left of the Missouri State cage as the match remained locked at 0-0.
The pace of play started to pick up in the latter part of the first half with a few dangerous chances for the Bears. Missouri State registered three shots on Lowell in the final 10 minutes of the half, but it wasn’t successfully able to break the ice.
Both squads went into the break at 0-0 after the first 45 minutes. Missouri State had the only four shots on target when the referee blew his whistle to signal the end of the opening half.
The opening minutes of the second half, contrary to the end of the first half, consisted of very few opportunities for either side.
However, junior forward Justin Gielen eventually collected Maryland’s fourth shot attempt, but a header try from freshman midfielder Ben Bender’s cross flew just over Creek’s goal in the 55th minute. Padilla came right back down in Missouri State’s end for the Terps with a shot of his own just a few minutes after Gielen’s header, but his attempt zipped wide-left of the Bears’ cage.
Maryland flipped the script in the second half and had the majority of the press through the 66th minute, as it had the first three attempts shots of the half.
Despite the Terps’ improved play, the Bears almost had the first tally of the match just before the 70th minute. A counter-attack led to senior forward Josh Dolling beating Lowell on a shot and eventually finding the back of the net, but luckily for the Terps, the play was waved off due to an offside player for the Bears as the game remained scoreless.
Maryland would eventually find the back of the net first, though.
Redshirt sophomore midfielder Nick Richardson took the ball into the left side of the Bears’ penalty area and crossed the ball with the outside of his foot into the box. The cross sailed all the way across the dangerous area and eventually bounced towards the far-post, where senior forward Eric Matzelevich was waiting for his moment. The senior bent all the way down, with his knees practically touching the ground, and powered home an easy header, which found its way into the back of the net to give Maryland the 1-0 lead in the 83rd minute.
“Eric [Matzelevich], doing Eric, just finishing plays off,” redshirt senior forward Paul Bin said of Maryland’s lone goal. “It was great to watch the goal, the play was awesome, and to be honest, I thought we’d won it.”
The Maryland lead was short-lived, though, as Missouri State came right back down the other way with a goal of its own. Senior defender Connor Langan sent sophomore forward Jon Koka into Maryland’s box, and the sophomore smashed home the equalizer past Lowell in the 85th minute.
With just under a minute remaining, Missouri State eventually broke through once again and gave the Terps their first deficit of the afternoon off the foot of Koka.
“We got a little bit sloppy at the end, it’s that simple,” Cirovski said. “We should have been able to close this game out. The way that we defended for 85 minutes was great and the last five minutes we just didn’t defend very well.”
The remaining 35 seconds wound down, and the clock expired on Maryland’s NCAA Tournament hopes as Missouri State advanced to the third round.
“Obviously, the result, definitely not what we wanted,” Matzelevich said. “But I mean, can’t fault the guys. They put everything out there. I mean, it’s just sports, you know, coming down to the last five minutes that’s why people watch sports, play sports for insane moments like that.”
Three Things to Know
1. Maryland was forced to play a style it hasn’t played with all season. Throughout the 2021 campaign, the Terps consistently put pressure on their opponents’ defensive third. However, against Missouri State, Maryland had to sit back and be more of a counter-attacking team. The Bears had the opening four shots on goal and registered nine shot attempts in the first half compared to Maryland’s three. The Terps eventually found their footing in the second half and started to press more. Despite, the new style of play Maryland eventually fell in the closing moments. The Terps clearly weren’t used to a team that played like Missouri State did and the final result showed just exactly that.
2. Lowell had a strong day for the Terps. The true freshman goalie had a solid first appearance in the NCAA Tournament. Lowell had four saves in the first half alone and had to make quality stops for Maryland to keep the match scoreless through the first 45 minutes. He didn’t face another shot on target until the 85th minute when the Bears put home their equalizer. Missouri State scored another on Lowell just a few minutes later, but there wasn't much the freshman could do. Lowell was at the top of his game once again, despite the let-down in the final minutes.
“I thought he commanded the box well, he made some good plays, you know, he’s growing into his position and the speed of which things happen,” Cirovski said about his goalie. “I thought Jamie was solid, I don’t think he had much of a chance on either of those two goals.”
3. Maryland’s rocky season ends with disappointment. Considered a long-shot to even get into the NCAA Tournament field, the Terps fell in their opening NCAA Tournament match against a better Missouri State team. With its season officially over, Maryland registered just four wins in 11 matches. It wasn’t a perfect season by any means, and the Terps’ collapse in the final minute put the nail in the coffin for what was a fairly underwhelming campaign for Cirovski’s squad.
“With Maryland, if you don’t win, it’s never really a success. I think that’s something that we all know here is that we’re always expected to win, we’re always going to have targets on our backs,” Bin said. “I think people are going to look at this season from the outside and see it as a failure. I personally won’t see this as a failure. I think we’ve gone through so much this year from COVID, from a heck a lot of injuries and just a lot of just adversity and I think overcoming adversity as a collective and still having a smile on our face and still being able to enjoy the ride with with your best friends, I think is a success story in itself.”