Maryland men’s soccer midfielder Eli Crognale threw his hands in the air to call for a pass from midfielder Jacob Chakroun at the edge of the box. As soon as Crognale gained possession, forward Justin Gielen took off.
Crognale looked up, picked out his target and sent in his cross.
Gielen had carved out inside positioning on his defender and calmly headed in Crognale’s floated pass to give the No. 22 Terps the initial score they needed on their way to earning their first road victory of the season — a 2-0 win over Ohio State on Friday night.
“The goal going into this game was to get a defining road win,” coach Sasho Cirovski said. “And, mission accomplished.”
In the team’s first four matches away from home this season — three true road games and a neutral site game at Audi Field in Washington, D.C. — Maryland compiled an 0-2-2 record.
Conversely, Cirovski’s squad has accumulated an 8-2-0 record while playing at Ludwig Field.
“It’s a lot easier, obviously, to win at home, especially having the best home stadium [and] home fans in the country,” Gielen said. “So it’s a lot more about the team and internal motivation to get a win on the road.”
Maryland didn’t channel that internal motivation at the start of the match and had to survive a threatening chance off the foot of forward Matteo Bennati in the 23rd minute that sailed wide-right.
The Terps created their first look of the night a minute later. Midfielder David Kovacic ripped an on-target shot from distance. Goalkeeper Parker Siegfried needed a diving save to deflect the ball out of play and keep the game level.
When Maryland’s attack found its next quality chance with Crognale’s pass in the 36th minute, Siegfried was left flat-footed and could only watch idly as Gielen’s header bounced in.
Gielen, who had barely missed on headed chances early in the season, now has two headed goals in the past two weeks. The sophomore scored Maryland’s lone goal in a 1-1 draw against Michigan State on the road on Oct. 11.
“He’s gotten better over the season, and you can see it now,” defender Brett St. Martin said of Gielen. “He’s finally getting rewarded for it.”
The first-half breakthrough alleviated some of the angst for Maryland on the road, where they’ve struggled to convert on chances.
In their two road draws this season, against Wisconsin and Michigan State, the Terps recorded a combined 34 shots but had only one goal to show for the onslaught.
“We went to Wisconsin and Michigan State, and we should’ve gotten six points from that,” St. Martin said. “But we didn’t finish our chances.”
Following Gielen’s score, goalkeeper Niklas Neumann briefly exited the match because of an illness. Russell Shealy, who had not played since Sept. 20 when he allowed three goals against Northwestern, assumed Neumann’s spot in relief.
When the two teams returned for halftime, Neumann trotted out to resume his goalkeeping duties.
Despite his bout with a stomach illness, Neumann remained composed when called upon in the second half. A quick flick attempt in threatened the freshman goalkeeper in the 58th minute, but Neumann pounced on the ball to preserve the clean sheet, which the defense held onto for its third consecutive shutout.
Midfielder Malcolm Johnston broke through in the 85th minute to seal the victory. Forward Eric Matzelevich inadvertently had his chance deflect over to the freshman, who unleashed a strike past the Buckeye shot-stopper.
“We neutralized any of their attack,” Cirovski said. “At the same time, I thought we had a good blend of some very good possession, but also some dangerous chances.”
Before Friday night, Maryland had played just four games away from home because two matches initially scheduled to be played elsewhere were moved to Ludwig Field.
A September match against Villanova was moved from Major League Soccer’s Talen Energy Stadium to Ludwig Field because of scheduling conflicts. Then, the match against Georgetown was moved to College Park to accommodate a night broadcast because the Hoyas’ stadium is not equipped with lights.
Other than the 2-0 loss to Virginia at Audi Field in early September, the 27th-year coach believed his team was deserving of better away results this season.
Against UCLA, he said the team gifted three goals to surrender the game to the Bruins. When the Terps played Wisconsin, Johnston received a red card, forcing Maryland to play a man down for 70 minutes. And in the team’s trip to Michigan State, the Terps battled rain and severe wind, prompting Cirovski to call it a “monsoon.”
With the road victory in the books, there’s confidence that this will only help the team’s confidence in the postseason, when winning away from home is a necessity.
“It makes us feel like we can go into someone else’s house and dominate,” Gielen said. “We showed it, and now we can move forward and do that in the tournament.”