For the first time since 2013, the Maryland men’s soccer team is headed to the College Cup. The No. 11-seeded Terps (11-6-4) upset the No. 3-seed Kentucky at home, 1-0, to earn its spot as one of the four-best teams in college soccer and a trip to Santa Barbara, California.
The lone goal of the game came off the foot of senior forward Sebastian Elney in the 29th minute, but the star of the game was the Maryland defense. The backline and central-defensive midfielders shut down JJ Williams, Kentucky’s star junior forward, limiting him to only three shots.
The Wildcats (19-2-1) had just two shots on goal the whole game, an anomaly for a team that has scored 49 goals this season. As redshirt junior goalkeeper Dayne St. Clair picks up his 11th shutout of the season, Maryland earned its third shutout in the NCAA Tournament.
The Terps have now scored five goals solely in the NCAA Tournament, after taking five games to score their first goal at the start of the season.
Elney, with a right-footed strike to the far post, put the Terps up 1-0 in the first half. The senior forward received a pass from fellow senior Amar Sejdic at the top of the box, took one touch and hammered it past sophomore goalkeeper Enrique Facusse, who leads the country in shutouts.
This was only the third goal that Kentucky has given up at home this season and the first time the Wildcats trailed at home. Kentucky was undefeated this season before the Terps visited.
Midway through the first half, neither team was doing much well. Players were taking bad touches, kicking the ball out of bounds with no one around them and neither looked to have the upperhand.
Even though Kentucky was getting some pressure on the Maryland backline, no shots were registered until the 19th minute.
All Maryland needed was one chance on goal, though, as Sejdic fed the ball to Elney, and he took care of the rest to earn his fourth goal in his senior season.
The Terps defense, led by junior defender Donovan Pines in the centerback position, stifled the Kentucky offense that came into the game averaging 2.33 goals per game. A large part of that scoring was off the foot of Williams, whom Pines was glued to all night, holding the forward to no shots in the first half.
Scoring on a first opportunity was nothing new to the Terps, having done it in all three NCAA Tournament matches. Kentucky was in an unfamiliar position going into halftime down 1-0 to the Terps, who only held a slight advantage in shots, 4-3.
The Wildcats, not surprisingly, came out aggressively at the start of the second half. With Williams partially neutralized by Pines, things opened up on offense for other Wildcats.
Kentucky’s Aime Mabika had the closest chance in the 49th minute, as Samuels slipped inside the box to leave space wide open for him to take the shot. Maryland players’ threw their hands up, wanting officials to call a handball, but there was no whistle as Mabika’s shot hit the far post and traveled out of bounds.
In an already chippy game, things got even chippier in midway through the second half. In a matter of 10 minutes, three yellow cards were issued. Kentucky, sensing that time was running out, amped up the pressure on offense, but the Maryland defense did not break.
The Terps nearly made it a 2-0 game in the 69th minute, as freshman midfielder William James Herve barely missed the goal on a header, and the rebound shot from junior Eli Crognale hit the crossbar.
As Kentucky continued to try to break through Maryland’s backline, they nearly got the equalizer with 12 minutes left in the match. Williams managed to slip past the centerbacks, but his shot was blocked. The block, however, deflected off of Pines and St. Clair was forced to make a one-handed save to preserve his team’s lead.
Kentucky did not stop fighting with a trip to the Final Four on the line, but Maryland’s defense held on for the upset win.
The Terps will face No. 2-seed Indiana in the NCAA Semifinals on Friday at 10:45 p.m in a rematch of the Big Ten Tournament semifinal match, in which Indiana advanced to the championship on penalty kicks.
Editor’s Note: This story has been updated from its original form to include Maryland’s opponent in the semifinals.
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