Nobody could’ve predicted the Maryland men’s soccer team’s season would come crashing down in the 70th minute of the squad’s NCAA tournament second round match against Providence on Sunday night.
At that point, Maryland held a 4-1 lead. But that’s when the Friars shocked the nation with four consecutive goals.
Coach Sasho Cirovski said defense is the most important foundation to win championships, and that unit failed the Terps. As Maryland’s backline broke down, so did the team’s undefeated record and perhaps its best shot to win its first national title since 2008.
The Terps had displayed resiliency all season. Yet in their first elimination contest, they couldn’t score when they needed it most. Providence defeated No. 1-seed Maryland, 5-4, at Ludwig Field, marking the Terps’ second loss in the second round in the last three years.
“This one is hard to process,” Cirovski said. “It’s almost too unbelievable to see it unfold right before your own eyes. They made some plays that I think some of their players may never make again. I feel so empty for our players.”
Maryland (18-1-2) hadn’t allowed five goals since 2008 and hadn’t surrendered that many at home since 1993 — Cirovski’s first year with the program.
The Terps started fast, scoring two goals in the first half. After the break, they scored two more, one from midfielder Amar Sejdic and the other by midfielder Eryk Williamson. Maryland controlled possession and rarely let the Friars (14-6) into the attacking third.
Then, madness ensued.
Providence scored twice in a 36-second span. First, midfielder Julian Gressel scored his second goal of the game, and then defender Nick Sailor lofted a shot into the top-left corner of the net. When defender Steven Kilday scored to knot the contest at four about five minutes later, he sprinted toward the Friars bench while his teammates on the field chased him and the whole team gathered around him. Maryland hadn’t allowed four goals since 2013.
In the 82nd minute, defender Joao Serrano scored off a corner kick to give Providence the lead — the fifth time Maryland has faced a deficit in the final 10 minutes. Sejdic put his arms over his head while the Terps scurried back into position.
The wind blew at about 18 mph throughout the game, and with the gusts to their advantage in the second half, the Friars’ shots twisted and turned into the back of the net.
“Momentum definitely kind of went their way,” Sejdic said. “After that third goal, I was just like, ‘It’s hard to believe.’ You can’t believe that it just fell so easy like that. It just happens. No words for it.”
After a five-game shutout streak, the Terps allowed 17 goals in their final nine matches. They struggled against counterattacks all season, and those issues continued Sunday. Cirovski was happy with his team’s possession down the stretch, but his squad lost in a series of events Cirovski said he’s never seen in his 26-year college coaching career.
When the final whistle blew, some Terps sat on the field in disbelief. Some cried. Others walked toward the sideline, heads down. The players on the bench gave each other hugs. The Friars, meanwhile, sprinted onto the field, hugged their goalkeeper and jumped around.
Cirovski said he wished his team had lost a match in the regular season so his players would have known the feeling of defeat. Maryland didn’t experience the emotion until the sting meant the season’s end.
“I would’ve bet my own life my team wouldn’t give up five goals at home,” Cirovski said. “It’s going to haunt me for a long time. It’s going to have me look a little closer in what identity I what in next year’s team. I want a championship identity.”
Forward Gordon Wild, who led Maryland with 17 goals this season, said Thursday the only way he would be content with this season was if the Terps won the national championship. For much of the game, Maryland appeared poised for its 14th Sweet 16 in 15 years.
But in 20 minutes, his hopes vanished.
“This whole thing is hard to process,” Wild said as he faced reporters after looking at the ground in disappointment. “I’m feeling like I let them down a little bit. I can’t really find words for what just happened. Right now, I just don’t know.”