Maryland men’s soccer team finished the campaign with the 57th-ranked attack this season only a year after finishing with the second best attack in the country.
That’s the difference between last season’s one-loss team and the 2017 team that failed to win the last six games of the season, all of which were at Ludwig Field.
However, the end result was the same. Both years, the Terps lost in their first playoff game at home in heartbreaking fashion.
While the one-game defensive collapse ended an otherwise unblemished 2016 season, it was the lack of scoring that resulted in the cumulative collapse of 2017.
“Over the last five games our quality of finishing just dried up,” head coach Sasho Cirovski said after losing to Albany on penalty kicks. “I just can’t explain it.”
Cirovski was optimistic going into the first round of the NCAA Tournament, saying that the week off from games was some of the most intense training sessions he had seen all season.
“We had a great last eight days of training,” Cirvoski said. “It’s the sharpest I’ve seen the team in a few years. Scoring, finishing and so many good things that I saw and I thought I would see several goals today.”
Maryland did not score that night, but were again the stronger side over the 110 minutes of the match. Cirovksi said the Terps were outplayed only once out of the five games Maryland lost prior to the Albany game.
However, the forwards once again could not break through the opposing defense. Despite Junior forwards Sebastian Elney and Gordon Wild’s two shots on goal apiece, the stout Albany defense showed that absorbing pressure and hitting the Terps on the counter attack was where Maryland were the most vulnerable.
“You have to give Albany credit,” Cirovski said. “In the end, their game plan worked.”
Maryland struggled to defend quick counter attacks during the losing streak, with Georgetown, VCU, Coastal Carolina, Michigan and Wisconsin all catching the Terps outnumbered in the final third when the Terps pushed numbers forward to break the deadlock.
The forwards failed finish chances despite a lot of attacking pressure when it mattered most for the Terps down the stretch of the season. Wild, who was named to the MAC Hermann Trophy watch list before the season, finished with five goals and went scoreless through the final 13 games of the season.
Wild had an opportunity to break that goalscoring drought just 35 seconds into the game with a shot that the Big Ten Midfielder of the Year Eryk Williamson thought was going in.
“First minute we had a chance and you just kind of see it from there that you think it’s coming and it’s just not coming and that was the biggest frustration today,” Williamson said.
That accumulation of failing to score in key moments of games did not translate from the great training sessions Maryland had during the week of preparation for the first round. Instead, the accumulation of the forwards’ lack of confidence without any goals as time went on proved to be the downfall of Maryland’s season.
The season’s three main forwards during the penalty shootout perhaps showed their lack of confidence the best.
Wild stepped up first but Albany keeper Danny Vitiello dove left and saved it. Freshman Eric Matzelevich, who hadn’t scored since the UCLA game on Sept. 1, also had his shot saved while Elney skied his attempt during sudden death penalties.
That lack of conviction in front of goal clashed with Maryland’s possession-oriented style, always wanting to pin the opposition back and keep the ball to carve out as many chances as possible.
“You always talk about making [our style of play] look pretty, but at the end of the day it’s the ball not being in the back of the net,” Williamson said. “I think that was our biggest problem.”
With professional contracts looming over the horizon for Williamson among others as well as Cirovski throwing his bid to become the next U.S. Men’s National Team Manager, the overall squad may look very different this time next year.
The unanswered questions of the end of season collapse will have to be answered by whoever remains as the next nine months will look to get a soccer program whose objective every year is to win national championships, but has lost in their first playoff game the last two seasons.
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