Victor Bezerra could only admire his strike. The sophomore had just received a layoff from a free kick, belting the ball towards the bottom corner. It careened through the Maryland men’s soccer wall, pinging off the post and into the net.
He stopped watching, running over to Indiana coach Todd Yeagley in celebration, jubilant having given his team a 2-0 lead.
It was Bezerra’s second of the night, the culmination of a dominant performance from the Hoosiers’ star forward. He led his team to a convincing 2-0 win over Maryland, sending the Terps home in the semifinals of the Big Ten tournament.
Though the two sides were locked in an engaging battle, Indiana had more quality on the night. After a tight first half, Bezerra blew the game open in the second, netting twice in 15 minutes to give his team a 2-0 cushion, one his team would comfortably see out.
“They have a more important attack than we do,” coach Sasho Cirovski said. “There’s no question about it. And today, you saw the offensive player of the year come through for them.”
The loss puts Maryland (4-4-2) in a precarious situation with regard to an NCAA Tournament bid. Wilting due to injuries and a condensed schedule, the Terps might not have done enough to put themselves in the 36-team bracket.
Still, they showed fight at Yeagley Field.
Without head coach Sasho Cirovski on the sideline, Maryland showed few signs of dropping its usual level of intensity. Justin Gielen put in a heavy slide tackle within the first five minutes, as the two sides exchanged hard challenges in the opening. It took seven minutes for either team to register a shot — a scuffed attempt from Nate Ward, easily cleared by the Terps.
[Maryland men’s soccer’s Brayan Padilla has regained his form after ACL injury]
The game livened up shortly after. Brayan Padilla rattled the bar from a tight angle. Bezerra followed it up with a rip from distance, drawing a save from Lowell. And the best chance of the first half came to Eric Matzelevich, who found himself open on the break, but dragged his shot wide.
And neither side could find the back of the net in the first half. Indiana had a few further looks, spearheaded by Bezerra. The forward looked dangerous, forcing another snag off Lowell and knocking a header over the net. But none truly threatened.
Meanwhile, Maryland’s injury issues continued to mount, as Alex Nitzl pulled up while chasing the ball. He was replaced by debutant Kento Abe. He showed no signs of inexperience, though, and the teams went into the break scoreless.
“We were super fired up going into halftime,” Matzelevich said. “We had them on the ropes going in there.”
Indiana struck quickly out of the break. Bezerra drifted toward the near post, receiving a floated ball from Nyk Sessock, and volleying home for a 1-0 lead 90 seconds into the second half.
[When Maryland men’s soccer needed a stop against Rutgers, Jamie Lowell delivered]
The Hoosiers almost added another a minute later, with Ryan Wittenbrink firing a near post shot that Lowell diverted. But the Terps eventually succumbed to Indiana pressure for the second time. Bezerra fired in his second of the day, lashing a lay off into the corner from 25 yards out.
Padilla orchestrated Maryland’s response, though. He fired a free kick at goal, his shot equaled by Roman Celentano. He was involved again off the ensuing corner, whipping a ball in that Matzelevich nodded over. Bender had a chance of his own shortly after, sending a deflected shot wide of the post.
Still, Maryland couldn’t quite find the crucial pass, or capitalize on one of its few opportunities. So, for all of their efforts and attempts on goal, the Terps endured a frustrating evening in Bloomington.
“We still created some really good interplay, some good combination play, got in good spots, but that final cross was just not there,” Cirovski said.
And Bezerra comfortably watched from the bench as the clock wound down, admiring his work, as Maryland crashed out of the Big Ten tournament in the semifinals.
Meanwhile, the Terps, too, might be viewing from the sidelines as the national tournament starts up in a couple of weeks.
With Indiana and Penn State likely already in, it’s down to the committee to elect if a third Big Ten team makes the cut.
For now, all Maryland can do is wait.
“Despite the adversity, I think we’re an NCAA tournament team. With a reduced field, I think it’s going to be a challenge,” Cirovski said.