The Maryland men’s soccer team finished the 2016 regular season unbeaten for the first time in 49 years.
Coach Sasho Cirovski’s squad extended its run to 31 consecutive regular season games entering Tuesday, and with four home games remaining, the possibility of back-to-back undefeated campaigns appeared likely.
The No. 13 Hoyas snapped that streak at Ludwig Field, scoring an 88th-minute goal to claim a 1-0 win over the No. 3 Terps, but Cirovski said he was thankful for their first regular season loss since Oct. 31, 2015.
“In many ways, my team needs a loss,” Cirovski said. “You hate to lose any time, but … this is what the doctor ordered for my team.”
Earlier in the week, forward Gordon Wild said the team placed little weight on its regular season record.
“The most important thing this year is to go as far as we can in the [NCAA] tournament,” Wild said. “That’s where our prize is.”
Those perspectives are colored by how last year ended. A dream season came crashing down in Maryland’s first game of the NCAA tournament, a 5-4 loss to Providence.
While this was the first loss of Maryland’s season, it wasn’t their worst performance. Compared to previous low points of the season — a scoreless draw with No. 1 Indiana in which Maryland didn’t put a shot on net and a 1-1 draw at UMBC — the team wasn’t too frustrated by its Tuesday showing.
“I don’t think we played bad tonight, but we didn’t play very well,” midfielder Jake Rozhansky said. “When you do that, it’s dangerous. When you don’t play your best, the other team can take advantage.”
Maryland outshot the Hoyas, 7-1, in the first half 12-6 on the night.
But the Terps’ efforts rarely challenged Georgetown goalkeeper JT Marcinkowski, who Cirovski estimated had to make just one quality save out of his eight on the night.
“We weren’t happy with the chances we created,” Rozhansky said. “Attacking wise we weren’t good enough.”
Maryland’s offense has been inconsistent this year, preventing the Terps from separating themselves from teams they’ve easily outshot and out-possessed.
Until Tuesday, no opponent had made them pay, and most of the time the Terps scraped together enough attacking production to win. But with the Terps pushing eight or nine men forward in search of a late winner against Georgetown, the Hoyas forged a counterattack that earned them their third win over Maryland in their last four meetings after going winless in the first 28 tries.
Maryland defenders Miles Stray and Donovan Pines both had chances to stop the attack: Stray on the initial ball forward and Pines on the final pass. But Stray’s header gave the ball right back to the Hoyas, and Pines’ deflection couldn’t stop midfielder Christopher Lema’s pass from reaching the feet of midfielder Jacob Montes.
“You always fear getting caught on the counter,” Cirovski said. “They caught us that one time and I think we showed a little naivety in how we dealt with it.”
In the first 88 minutes, Cirovski was proud of his team’s defensive effort. Despite missing its two fullbacks, George Campbell and Chase Gasper, the Terps backline appeared solid and allowed just one shot before halftime.
But the Terps showed a lack of awareness in how they handled the Hoyas’ counter, Cirovski and Rozhansky said.
“You move some people around [in the lineup], and late in the game you’ve got tired legs, tired bodies and tired minds,” Cirovski said, “and those things happen.”
Last year, after the Terps unraveled late against Providence, they had to wait nine months before their next game.
This time, the team’s chance to respond to its first loss comes in two days.
“It’s a good thing we lost now, because we can learn from it,” Rozhansky said. “Last season, the season was over. We just have to take it as a learning curve, learn from this and move on.”