WASHINGTON — In the third minute of No. 1 Maryland men’s soccer’s matchup against No. 12 Virginia, a Cavaliers cross into the box sailed past two Terps defenders and landed at the feet of forward Daryl Dike, who one-timed a shot on cage.
Freshman goalkeeper Niklas Neumann, making his first career start, reacted quickly to deflect the shot away and keep the game scoreless early.
Neumann’s heroics only lasted so long, though.
The German native was constantly under siege behind an uncharacteristically porous Maryland defense during its 2-0 loss to Virginia on Monday night at Audi Field.
“This team has to learn to become the hunter again,” coach Sasho Cirovski said. “We’ve been preaching to them that teams will come with their A-game every game, and that we have to make sure we bring not only a level of intensity but quality with us, as well.”
The Cavaliers threatened Maryland’s defensive third from the outset, firing six shots within the first 15 minutes — tripling the amount the Terps’ defense surrendered in its season-opening 1-0 win over USF.
“In the beginning, they were just getting their way a little bit in terms of breaking down our press,” defender Ben Di Rosa said.
During the match against the Bulls, Cirovski’s defense continued the suffocating play that carried Maryland to a national championship last year. But that brand of defense was noticeably absent during the opening stages of Monday’s first half, and Virginia capitalized on the lapses.
In the 21st minute, Virginia midfielder Daniel Steedman rifled a shot on net that Neumann sprawled out to stop. But the rebound ricocheted to the 18-yard box, and forward Nathaniel Crofts stepped into a strong shot to give the Cavaliers the advantage.
The goal marked the first time the Terps (1-1) conceded since Nov. 9, 2018, a span of 297 days. And the next tally didn’t take long.
Two minutes later, Dike was given too much space at the left corner of the box and slotted a pinpoint shot to the upper-right corner to leave Neumann as a helpless spectator to Virginia’s second goal.
“Virginia came out on the front foot,” Cirovski said. “And we didn’t match their intensity or their quality, particularly in the first 15 [or] 20 minutes in the game.”
Maryland’s best chance of the night came on a free kick in the 24th minute that Cavaliers (2-0) goalkeeper Colin Shutler couldn’t corral in midair. The ball deflected down to the feet of Terps defender Johannes Bergmann, who tried to send a shot through a contested area, but instead had it blocked and hit off the post weakly.
The second half saw Virginia riding its own stout defense to protect the 2-0 lead, stifling Maryland’s attack to just one shot in the final 45 minutes.
As the team sought a score in the second half to get itself within a goal, the attacking players struggled to connect passes and create any threatening chances. Cirovski attributed the attacking struggles to a host of new players playing alongside one another trying to build rapport.
Even in Maryland’s first match, the lone goal came on a header off a corner kick, while the attack missed chances to create in the final third.
“The connections need to keep coming better,” forward Eric Matzelevich said. “The final ball, the final shot — it all needs to be a bit better.”
Cirovski’s backline settled down in the final frame, holding Virginia to one attempt. But at that point, with two goals already past Neumann, the damage was done. Cirovski’s side dropped to 1-1 on the young season ahead of a matchup with cross-country rival UCLA on Friday night.
“The nice thing about the college season is it’s a quick turnaround,” Di Rosa said. “We’ve just got to move on from it quickly.”