Penn State men’s soccer forward Christian Sload sprinted past midfield and slid down to the turf to celebrate his game-winning goal. Back at Maryland’s net, where Sload delivered the score, goalkeeper Niklas Neumann crouched down in a state of shock.
It was the second ball the No. 17 Terps’ defense couldn’t get to in time that Sload pounced on to get off an open shot.
On his senior night, Sload’s goal propelled the No. 16 Nittany Lions to a 3-2 comeback win that culminated a furious rally after trailing 2-0 early on in Tuesday night’s conference matchup at Jeffrey Field.
“We started the game brightly and we competed hard throughout the game when we knew Penn State would make a challenge,” coach Sasho Cirovski said. “In the end, I think they just made one more play than we did.”
Coming into the game, Maryland (9-5-2, 3-2-2 Big Ten) needed a win to stay in contention for a regular-season conference title and the No. 1 seed in the Big Ten tournament.
The pursuit to stay alive in that race started promising, with the Terps scoring twice on their first two shots.
In the 10th minute, midfielder Eli Crognale didn’t hesitate to shoot from distance, and floated in his shot past the outstretched arms of goalkeeper Kris Shakes for a highlight goal.
Less than two minutes later, Crognale unleashed an attempt from outside the box. This time, his shot deflected off a Nittany Lions defender. But the ricochet was a fortuitous bounce for Maryland, as the ball fell to Justin Gielen in the box, where the sophomore slotted home his second goal in as many games.
“I thought we played some really good soccer,” Cirovski said. “We did get two goals on the road early, and that changes the game a little bit.”
After the goal, Shakes kicked the ball to the back of the net in frustration as the Terps took a 2-0 lead. But the letdown was short-lived, as Shakes saw his teammates rise to the occasion and sway momentum in their favor.
The Nittany Lions (10-2-3, 5-1-1 Big Ten) reeled off the game’s next six shots to threaten cutting into Maryland’s lead. While the Terps defense held firm with a pair of blocks and a save to thwart those chances, Penn State didn’t relent.
On the seventh consecutive shot, Cirovski’s defense didn’t have the answer. Midfielder Aaron Molloy sent in a long service to the box, and defender Brandon Hackenberg headed in the goal to beat goalkeeper Niklas Neumann in the 33rd minute.
“It just popped out to the edge of the box, and just nobody there to block it,” defender Ben Di Rosa said. “It’s tough when it’s at the top of the box like that and it bounces their way.”
Hackenberg’s goal was the first score Maryland conceded after a stretch of 337 shutout minutes, dating back to its match against Georgetown on Oct. 14.
Maryland’s next shutout streak lasted just 23 minutes, with Penn State scoring in the 56th minute. Molloy sent a strong free kick toward Neumann, who made the initial save. But the Terps’ attempted clearance trickled only to the edge of the box where midfielder Kyle May stepped into a shot that leveled the score.
“We never want to give up three goals. Our mentality going into every game obviously is to get a shutout, and we’ve been successful recently,” Di Rosa said. “Just didn’t have it today.”
Both sides saw their freshman goalkeeper made vital saves in the second half to keep the game.
Neumann met a shot with his face on a dangerous one-on-one chance to fend off the chance in the 57th minute.
“Just a monster in the goal. … He made some really critical saves,” forward Eric Matzelevich said. “Just really unfortunate that we didn’t get a couple goal-line clearances.”
With just over a minute left in regulation, Crognale rifled a shot from outside the box that was tracking toward the game-winning goal before Shakes elevated to knock the ball over the bar to help extend the game into overtime.
In the overtime period, Di Rosa headed the initial cross high into the air. When the ball fell to the field, it rolled out of the reach of a Maryland defender, and Sload capitalized to bury the game-winner and dash the Terps’ chances of claiming the regular season title.
For Maryland to host a quarterfinal game in the conference tournament, it will need to claim a top-four seed in the standings. With one game remaining, Sunday’s match against Michigan, the team understands the magnitude of the regular-season finale.
“We’re roaring to go against Michigan. We want to finish in the top half so we get a really good seed both in the NCAA tournament and also in the Big Ten tournament,” Matzelevich said. “We’re really looking forward to the postseason. But one more down on Sunday, and we’re really looking forward to it.”