Niklas Neumann’s performance vs. Indiana showed Maryland soccer it has a “special” goalie

Goalkeeper Niklas Neumann directs teammates during Maryland men's soccer's 1-0 double-overtime loss to Indiana in the Big Ten tournament on Nov. 15, 2019. (Richard Moglen/The Diamondback)

Maryland men’s soccer goalkeeper Niklas Neumann stood 12 yards away from Indiana defender Jack Maher, who was poised at the penalty spot with a chance to clinch the Hoosiers’ berth in the Big Ten tournament final.

The official awarded the penalty kick after an attempt deflected off Terps defender Matt Di Rosa’s hand inside the box.

Maher sent the shot to his left. Neumann guessed the correct direction and sprawled out to his right. But the Maryland shot-stopper narrowly missed his bid to fend off the effort and keep the Terps’ Big Ten tournament run alive.

Although Neumann couldn’t get a hand on Indiana’s game-winning penalty — securing a double-overtime Hoosiers victory — the freshman goalkeeper was the reason Maryland was still alive in the 103rd minute. Neumann secured a career-high eight saves, instilling confidence in his team that he will thrive even as the pressure ramps up in the NCAA tournament.

“He kept us in the game,” coach Sasho Cirovski said. “That’s what you need. You need a goalkeeper who’s going to play at a high level.”

[Read more: Top-seeded Indiana slots home penalty kick in 2OT to sink Maryland men’s soccer, 1-0]

Indiana overwhelmed the Terps in total shots, firing 22 attempts to Maryland’s six. It was a stark contrast to the first match between the two sides, when the Hoosiers didn’t force Neumann to make a single save because of their inaccurate shooting.

Indiana’s scattershot shooting marked the Big Ten tournament semifinal, too, especially early on. The top-seeded Hoosiers threw away prime chances in the first half with several errant strikes.

But in the second half, Indiana addressed the issue, forcing Neumann to make seven saves. The keeper put on a clinic late in regulation, making three leaping saves and a diving stop to force overtime.

“He’s totally the type of kid to react positively to pressure, and this sort of environment, this sort of game,” forward Justin Gielen said.

[Read more: Despite trouncing Indiana in first meeting, Maryland men’s soccer expects a tight rematch]

Playing in just the second elimination game of his career, Neumann was unfazed throughout the match.

Despite being the lower seed, the Terps were playing at their home stadium, with a chance to earn a spot in Sunday’s Big Ten final at Ludwig Field. As the Hoosiers continued to pepper the cage, and the angst in a partisan crowd grew, the freshman remained poised.

Playing in a college tournament is certainly new territory for the German native, but he understands the moment — he’s no stranger to being a goalkeeper in the spotlight. In those high-pressure games, though, Neumann emphasizes maintaining the same mindset he has anytime — and anywhere — he steps between the pipes.

“As a goalkeeper, it’s always about pressure and that you have to make the saves and you have a lot of responsibilities. But for me it’s all about enjoying the game,” Neumann said. “That’s my mindset. Every time I step on the pitch, I just try to have fun and not overthink it.”

That mindset will be put to good use as Maryland turns its attention toward the NCAA tournament.

The Terps know what having a shutdown goalkeeper and defense can do for a title run. The returning players on this year’s team saw it transpire last season, when five straight shutouts led Maryland to a national championship.

The result against Indiana won’t help the Terps’ seeding in the tournament, which will be announced during Monday’s selection show.

As they await their fate, Cirovski’s team can be sure of one thing: If its season comes down to needing a big save in the NCAA tournament, the Terps have a goalkeeper who’s now proven he can deliver in big moments.

“He was outstanding,” Cirovski said. “He showed that we’ve got a special goalkeeper.”

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