When forward Paul Bin lost control of the ball while trying to beat NC State defender Pepe Garcia, he instantly pressured to regain possession, a pursuit that gifted Maryland men’s soccer its easiest goal all season.
Garcia, feeling Bin’s chasedown, played the ball back to his goalkeeper, searching for a deep clearance down the field. But Leon Krapf’s kick barely left the ground, instead falling to midfielder Amar Sejdic at the top of the 18-yard box.
Rather than thwarting its harassing pressure, Krapf essentially handed No. 11-seed Maryland the opening goal in its NCAA tournament second-round game, as Sejdic took one touch before firing a shot with his left foot into the bottom corner of the net in the 11th minute.
Sejdic took advantage of the Terps’ first opportunity, and the defense held NC State to only one shot the entire game to comfortably advance to the third round with a 2-0 victory. Maryland will play the winner of No. 6 Duke and Pacific next weekend, the Terps’ first third-round appearance since 2015.
“I honestly didn’t really expect it. I thought it was going to be booted up the field and I was going to recover,” Sejdic said. “But when it fell to my feet, I took that touch to the left, saw that little pocket of space in the corner and picked it out.”
After failing to win a game in the Big Ten or NCAA tournaments a season ago, the Terps have accomplished both in 2018. Despite managing no wins or goals in the first four games of the season, coach Sasho Cirovski has felt his team trending toward what it showed in the dominant display against the Wolfpack.
“I’ve seen this coming over the last month of the season. We’ve been getting better and better,” Cirovski said. “This was a vintage Maryland playoff performance.”
After earning a first-round bye, the Terps said they wanted to prove their seeding in the postseason was warranted. Their first top-25 ranking in the national poll didn’t come after the NCAA committee released its bracket, but Maryland felt its vicious strength of schedule prepared it for the tournament.
Sejdic and the Terps didn’t waste much time to show — not just tell — that their 8-6-4 regular season record wasn’t representative of the threat they pose.
Ten minutes of back-and-forth turnovers preceded Sejdic’s team-leading sixth goal of the season, taking a quick lead on a Wolfpack team that was confident coming off a 4-1 rout of Campbell in Thursday’s first round.
“It was going to be a game of small margins, small details that are going to decide the game,” NC State defender Simon Blotko said. “Unfortunately, it happened with mistakes that could have been avoidable.”
Maryland only had two more shots the rest of the first half, while its fully-healthy defense conceded no shots. Chase Gasper started for the first time since Oct. 23, and Donovan Pines returned after missing the Big Ten semifinal with a concussion.
The back line tamed the Wolfpack attack, though a first-half NC State corner that rang off the crossbar isn’t included in its shot total of one.
“We couldn’t have done a better job,” Cirovski said. “I don’t think we could’ve actually shut them down any more efficiently than we did today.”
Not content with the one-goal lead, the Terps pushed for a second goal after halftime, and the urgency paid off in the 57th minute. Pines headed a corner kick off the crossbar, and forward Sebastian Elney lunged forward to head the rebound into the net for his third goal of the season.
“It’s reacting to that second ball. Elney dove through it and … essentially wins the game for them with that play,” NC State coach George Kiefer said. “Can’t we dive to clear? Those are the little differences.”
For the second time of the afternoon, a senior goalscorer led a celebration near the corner flag, where hugs and high-fives celebrated the cementing of the win. After losing three of the last four home games at Ludwig Field, and having suffered some painful postseason losses at Ludwig Field, the Terps defense only needed Sejdic’s routine shot to coast into the third round next weekend.
“This was a total team performance,” Cirovski said. “I couldn’t be happier with where we are as a group right now, and we’re excited for what is ahead next week.”