For the fourth time in the past month, members of the Maryland men’s soccer team lay frozen on the Ludwig Field turf.
This time, there was little reason to get back up.
Albany ended Maryland’s season in the first round of the NCAA tournament Thursday with a 5-4 penalty shootout win, the fourth heartbreaking ending in Maryland’s six-game losing streak that first tanked the team’s postseason seeding and then ended its season.
“It’s another tough moment to comprehend,” Maryland coach Sasho Cirovski said. “It’s a tough one to explain.”
None of the Terps’ excuses during their five-game losing streak applied to Thursday’s game against Albany, which finished as a scoreless draw before advancing to a penalty shootout.
Health? Maryland began the game at full strength for the first time since its losing streak began, using a backline that was undefeated and kept eight clean sheets in the first 13 games before left back Chase Gasper’s groin injury kept him out of the next five contests, all losses.
Second-half injuries to midfielder Amar Sejdic and George Campbell, top penalty takers who would’ve taken kicks early in the shootout but were unavailable, hampered that plan.
“The smallest things, sometimes, just don’t go your way,” Cirovski said, “and you end up on the wrong side of the score.”
Rest? The Terps were coming off a nine-day break. The Great Danes, meanwhile, went to double overtime the previous Sunday.
Motivation? Losers of five in a row, the Terps should’ve erased any sense of complacency from their psyche a long time ago. Plus, all season the players said their primary focus was avenging their stunning collapse in their first NCAA tournament game last year — when the then-undefeated No. 1-seed Terps blew a three-goal lead in the final 21 minutes.
As it had been for much of its late-season collapse, Maryland was the stronger team Thursday. After crashing out of the Big Ten tournament, Cirovski estimated his team had been outplayed in only one of its five losses.
“Coming on the road, we figured we’d have to absorb that initial push,” Albany coach Trevor Gorman said. “We figured they’d come out really fast.”
The Terps pressured all night, outshooting Albany, 14-4, and not allowing a second-half shot until the 87th minute. Cirovski said it seemed the Great Danes were playing for a tie.
“We prepared for them to kind of play like this,” midfielder Eryk Williamson said. “It was a hard-fought game. At the end of the day, early on in the season we were scoring those goals that we missed today.”
Cirovski complained for weeks about the disappearance of his “top-level” attackers, such as forward Gordon Wild, who tied for the second-most goals in the nation last year. The junior ended this season on a 13-game scoreless streak.
Wild’s opening penalty of the shootout was saved, starting a wild eight rounds that included four saved penalties, three that missed the target and one chip shot. Great Danes goalkeeper Danny Vitiello saved forward Eric Matzelevich’s sixth-round effort to give Albany midfielder Carlos Clark a chance to win it, but Clark pulled his shot wide.
“Our goalkeeper made two fantastic saves,” Cirovski said. “When you do that, you should win.”
Instead, Terps forward Sebastian Elney skied the next penalty over the bar, and Great Danes forward Brynjar Steinborsson’s effort sailed into the back of the net, signalling another chapter of a downward spiral that the Terps have run out of chances to reverse.
“In the end, their game plan gave them a chance to win,” Cirovski said. “They’re advancing, and we’re not.”