Shortly after a corner kick went unfinished in the 51st minute of Maryland men’s soccer’s game against UCLA on Saturday, coach Sasho Cirovski’s backline made its only mistake of the day.
The Terps lost possession in their attacking third, and the Bruins’ counter-attack formed up the right side of the field, forcing Maryland’s two center backs — Johannes Bergmann and Donovan Pines — to shift toward the ball. That adjustment left forward Mohammed Kamara alone in the box against defender Ben Di Rosa.
The 6-foot Kamara capitalized on his size advantage over the 5-foot-10 Di Rosa, rising to meet a cross and beating goalkeeper Dayne St. Clair with a header to the far post in the 52nd minute.
It was the first goal Maryland had given up in its past three games — but it resulted in a 1-0 defeat, the team’s second loss of the season.
“We’re good defensively — we just need to capitalize on the offensive side,” Pines said. “We can’t defend the whole game. We can’t defend 90 minutes.”
After allowing two first-half goals in the season opener, the Maryland defense has locked down, shutting out two ranked foes before conceding the lone goal against the Bruins.
But because of their inability to score, the Terps (0-2-2) are still without a win in 2018. The team is mired in the worst scoring drought to start a season in program history.
While Maryland’s defenders won’t acknowledge it, they’ve been playing under additional pressure, having to stay perfect until the goals start coming. In their previous two games, a single misstep like the one they made against UCLA would’ve guaranteed a loss.
“Hats off to them for executing, but the backline stood tall again [against UCLA],” Cirovski said. “Our issues are not there. Our issues are getting some more quality in the front line.”
When Maryland had to stave off attacks for 110 minutes against Stanford and Virginia, the backline picked up the slack for the offense, earning a pair of 0-0 draws.
When asked about his feelings toward the offense, Bergmann wouldn’t admit to any frustration with the unit’s ineptitude, even though the backline’s efforts aren’t being rewarded. Instead, the junior mirrored Cirovski’s typical hopeful response.
“Once we score, then we’ll score a lot,” Bergmann said.
The absence of forward Sebastian Elney on Saturday diminished Maryland’s chances of breaking the drought against the Bruins, and may continue to hinder the team going forward. One of the Terps’ most accomplished attackers, Elney is nursing an ankle injury and will miss Monday’s game against West Virginia, with no timetable for his return.
After each game this year, the team has reiterated its belief that once the levee breaks, Maryland’s offense will click the way it has in the past. Cirovski and a handful of players have guaranteed that goals would start coming soon. And aside from Saturday, when the Terps put only one shot on goal, the chances have been there.
But after the loss to UCLA, the 26-year Maryland coach deviated slightly from his usual response for the first time this season.
“Our goal with these first four games was to really find out a lot about ourselves and we have now,” Cirovski said. “We certainly have to tweak a few things whether it’s in the formation or the responsibilities of some of the players.”
Pines, like Bergmann, wouldn’t admit there was any more pressure on Maryland’s defense with a lack of goal support.
Despite the historically ugly start, he said the defense is continuing to stick together, roughly a quarter of the way through the regular season.
“We just need to stay positive and keep commanding the front line and just keep doing our job,” Pines said. “We’re pretty good. We just have to stay together as a team and not let anyone get in our heads and stay together.”