A formation switch gave Maryland men’s soccer the extra boost it needed to top St. John’s

Forward Justin Gielen carries the ball during Maryland's 1-0 overtime win over St. John's at Ludwig Field on Sept. 23, 2019. Gielen scored the lone goal for the Terps Friday night. (Joe Ryan/The Diamondback)

When Maryland men’s soccer coach Sasho Cirovski was devising his lineup for Monday night’s match against No. 9 St. John’s, his focus was on neutralizing a potent Red Storm attack while also figuring out how his squad would generate chances with a dearth of playmakers.

The Terps were set to play without the services of Eli Crognale, William James Herve and David Kovacic — three skilled midfielders in the attacking phase.

After some thought, Cirovski settled on a 3-5-2 formation — three defenders, five midfielders and two forwards — a change from the team’s typical 4-3-3 alignment. The alteration paid dividends, with the Terps’ defense blanking St. John’s and the attack eventually finding a double-overtime winner for the 1-0 victory.

“We’ve trained a little bit of that in the preseason,” Cirovski said. “And I thought the guys came in and executed very well today.”

[Read more: No. 25 Maryland men’s soccer finds late game-winner to upset No. 9 St. John’s in 2OT, 1-0]

With an attack that has struggled to consistently produce — in addition to Crognale, Herve and Kovacic’s sidelinings — the 27th-year coach wanted to bring additional players further up the field to create chances.

Both Ben and Matt Di Rosa, who usually play as fullbacks in the 4-3-3 formation, spent Monday as wingbackers. The Di Rosa brothers were already accustomed to supporting the attack on the flanks, a characteristic of the fullback position within Cirovski’s usual setup.

“I know that they can both beat their man and just go towards goal or get end line and whip in a good ball,” forward Justin Gielen said. “Knowing that they’re outside on the wings is very comfortable for me personally as a forward, and I know for the midfielders and the backs as well.”

Ben Di Rosa flashed his offensive ability while pressing up from his backline position on Sept. 16 against Villanova, rifling home the game-winning goal from just a few steps inside the box.

But against the Red Storm, it was his brother who flexed his offensive prowess to propel the Terps to victory.

Johannes Bergmann whipped in a corner kick that St. John’s cleared out, but only as far as Matt Di Rosa, who sent in the ball that defender Brett St. Martin deflected home for the overtime winner.

“[Matt] just hit a bomb into the box,” St. Martin said. “I kind of re-circled my run, turned around and kind of just got a flick on it, and it happened to go in the net.”

[Read more: Maryland men’s soccer couldn’t get out of its own way in 3-1 loss to Northwestern]

St. Martin was also part of the backline that helped keep the Red Storm off the board for the first time this season. St. John’s entered the game with the No. 8 scoring offense in the country with 18 goals through seven games but failed to penetrate the Terps’ backline trio.

While the backline nullified the Red Storm’s attack, Maryland’s offense looked to find results in the new alignment. After a slow first half of adjustment, Gielen noted that the Terps became more comfortable in their new setup.

The shot total reflected that increased comfort within the new formation. After halftime, Maryland outshot St. John’s 9-5, exploiting openings in the defense.

Although seven of those nine chances were off target, multiple misfires sailed just barely outside the frame, and Cirovski was confident that a goal would eventually come.

While it took 108 minutes to find that elusive score, the team reflected on the result proudly.

“Everyone realized what they had to do in the game, and they stepped up and they did it,” Gielen said. “From the forwards to the backs to the goalie, to everyone who came in throughout the game, it was a really good team effort.”

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