Malcolm Johnston jogged cooly into the corner, cutting a composed figure as his teammates jumped in delight. By the time he met them at the corner flag, the festivities started.
The sophomore had just lashed a shot into the back of the net, giving Maryland men’s soccer a crucial second goal. And Johnston’s strike would be enough Maryland needed in a composed performance in Evanston, Illinois, setting the Terps up for a 2-1 win.
After a dreary first period, the Terps brought more energy in the opening exchanges of the second half. They pushed up against an ailing Northwestern defense, nabbing two well taken goals within the first 10 minutes of the period. And though the Wildcats pulled one back late in the second half, Maryland held on for its fourth straight win.
“I’m very delighted with the victory and the performance of our team today,” Cirovski said.
Neither team asserted itself in the opening stages. The Terps lined up with backup keeper Jamie Lowell in net, and there were a few uncertain moments on defense. Passes took a few more seconds, headers went astray.
Maryland notched the first big chance of the game. Mike Heitzmann fed Nick Richardson, marauding down the right — who promptly cut the ball back to an advancing Paul Bin. But the redshirt senior skied his shot over the bar.
Bin was at it again three minutes later, lashing one with his left foot from the top of the box — which also couldn’t hit frame.
[Sasho Cirovski’s tactical adjustments have helped Maryland men’s soccer find its flow]
Northwestern had its moments on counter attacks, though. The Wildcats had a couple of close calls from corners, sending headers narrowly wide against a shorter Terps’ back line.
With 10 minutes remaining in the half, Northwestern appeared to have the ball in the back of the net. After a quick Wildcats’ link up on the wing, Richardson turned it into his own goal — but a Northwestern player was adjudged to be offside in the build up.
It was the best chance either team could muster in a steady first half. The Terps outshot the Wildcats, 5-1, and enjoyed the majority of the ball. However, neither side found the back of the net.
“At halftime, we talked about being more direct, try to get in behind them a little bit, having a little more malice in our attack,” Cirovski said. “And we did that.”
Maryland has enjoyed strong spells to open the second half on numerous occasions this season. There was the early goal against Michigan State, the flurry of chances against Wisconsin.
That continued on Saturday. Mike Heitzmann whipped a corner into a congregation of bodies, and the ball popped up to a lurking Ben Bender, who took two touches before lashing home for a 1-0 lead.
“We’ve seen that from Ben. That’s what we expect from Ben,” Cirovski said. “And I think it’s the start of a good run for him.”
The Terps added a second five minutes later. This time, Bin played provider, evading a defender before feeding Johnston just outside the box. The sophomore took one touch before firing his shot past Miha Miskovic, giving Maryland a 2-0 cushion.
[Maryland men’s soccer’s Paul Bin named Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week]
“He hit that perfectly,” Cirovski said.
Still, Maryland continued to push for a third — but Miskovic kept the Wildcats within striking distance. He made back-to-back saves off Justin Gielen and Justin Harris’ shots, denying the Terps of what would have been an unassailable advantage.
Meanwhile, Northwestern refused to go quietly. Deng Deng Kur met a floated cross with his right boot, which Lowell deflected away. Julian Zighelboim saw a venomous shot on the turn blocked.
So it was little surprise that Northwestern found the back of the net. Rom Brown found himself wide open off a corner, and headed in from a yard out, setting up a tense final 8 minutes.
“We made it interesting at the end again, I give Northwestern credit, to stay in the game and fight to get that goal,” Cirovski said.
But Maryland held on. Richie Bennett saw a volleyed effort whistle wide of Lowell’s post with a few minutes left as the Terps edged past the Wildcats in the end.
Maryland’s first half wastefulness had turned into second half joy. Though Miskovic kept the game close — and Brown made the game nervy — the Terps held on for their fourth consecutive win.
And after a sluggish start to the season, things are starting to look up for Cirovski’s squad. There just might be some more festivities by the corner flag in the coming weeks.
“Overall, it’s a great three points,” Cirovski said.