Maryland men’s soccer’s start to the season has been less than ideal. The Terps are sitting at 0-2 after demoralizing losses at the hands of both Penn State and Ohio State. Though both games ended in disheartening fashion, they portray completely different stories.
An unsteady back line, the inability to string passes together and a sluggish tempo are just a few of the problems the Terps wrestled with over the course of the Penn State loss. These issues are perhaps to be expected, though; Maryland is a team lacking in rhythm, so it was little wonder that it struggled to gain a foothold in the game. Realistically, those problems should dissipate once the young team gets used to playing with each other.
The game against Ohio State saw improvements in most parts of the Terps’ play. While Maryland still struggled to transition from defense to attack efficiently, the team definitely looked more assured at the back. The Terps were even able to weather an early Ohio State storm without giving up any clear-cut chances.
Coach Sasho Cirovski’s use of substitutes best highlighted this stark contrast. In the first game, Maryland looked so shaky at the back that Cirovski hooked off left back Isaac Ngobu in the 25th minute. On Saturday, though, Maryland’s coach didn’t feel the need to alternate any of the personnel in his back line for the entire game — until Ben Di Rosa was forced off with an injury with minutes remaining.
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Though both losses had differing narratives, there was one prevalent, telling issue: the team’s struggle to create chances not only in high volume, but also of high quality. The inability to be clinical is an issue many seasoned teams struggle with — and it isn’t a problem that can just be chalked up to not being match-ready.
In both games, Maryland has faced opponents deadlier than itself. Penn State made good on its pressure in the early stages of the game at Holuba Hall, scoring a well-worked goal. Shortly after, the Terps won a penalty against the run of play and failed to capitalize on that — with Brayan Padilla missing.
But the Nittany Lions made sure to make them pay not long after by doubling their lead. Although Maryland managed to score two goals in that loss, those goals came from another penalty and a screamer from 30 yards. These things can’t be relied on to happen consistently in any given game.
This was proven true in the game against the Buckeyes, as Maryland had to depend on open-play goals since they couldn’t conjure up any moments of brilliance or win any penalties. The few opportunities the Terps did manage to create were squandered as well. With chances few and far between, Ohio State bided its time until the second half when it capitalized on a counterattacking move.
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Maryland’s inability to be clinical and create good chances is clearly reflected in the statistics, as the team requires 11 shots before it scores a goal — the fourth-most in the Big Ten. This shots per goal statistic simply isn’t good enough to challenge for the conference title. Maryland clearly struggles to create chances, both in terms of quality and quantity.
It’s not all doom and gloom for the Terps, though — the freshman duo of Ben Bender and Jacen Russell-Rowe has shown potential to change games. Bender, with his excellent distribution and creativity, and Russell-Rowe, with his incisive attacking play and ability to change the game with one swing of his boot, will certainly be components of a Maryland team capable of playing the entertaining, offensive soccer it’s known for.
If the Terps can play in a manner that accentuates Bender’s strengths of chance creation and Russell-Rowe’s chance conversion, their fortunes could improve sooner rather than later.
In such a tight schedule, they’ll need to.