When Michigan State’s Gianni Ferri broke through the Maryland backline on March 19 and curled the ball into the net in the 90th minute, he didn’t celebrate much.
His goal was little more than a garbage time dent in a 2-1 win for the Terps — a matter of slight annoyance rather than a game blown.
Still, Terps coach Sasho Cirovski wasn’t happy.
“We need to look at managing those moments a little bit better,” Cirovski admitted after the match.
However, Ferri’s consolation strike proved to be far more important over the course of the season. It was the first of five goals Maryland conceded in the last 10 minutes over their final six games of the season, and that inability to keep opponents out as the clock dwindled proved to be costly.
On five occasions, the Terps let in goals after the 80th minute. The first two instances added extra nerves to what should have been comfortable wins — perhaps rattling Maryland a little.
Eight days after Ferri’s finish, the Terps gave up a late goal to Northwestern, this time in the 82nd minute. Rom Brown seized on a loose ball and nodded home, setting up a tense ending. The Wildcats mustered one more shot, but couldn’t find the net a second time.
“We made it interesting at the end again,” Cirovski said following the contest.
The next three, though, proved to be season-altering. On March 31, Maryland appeared to have held off an aggressive Penn State team, carrying a 2-1 lead into the final five minutes. A win would have given the Terps a Big Ten tournament boost by improving their points per game — likely lifting them to a No. 3 seed, and perhaps a more favorable matchup.
But a flowing move, capped off by a fine finish from Pierre Reedy, knotted the game at 2-2 with less than four minutes left. And as a light drizzle turned into a torrential downpour in overtime, neither side could find a breakthrough — leaving Maryland to lose two crucial points.
Then came the NCAA tournament second round. The Terps were tied against a well-drilled Missouri State team for 83 minutes. Their breakthrough came just after the 83rd minute mark from a delicate cross, whipped in by a surging Nick Richardson, then calmly finished by Eric Matzelevich. After scoring, Matzelevich pointed at the Maryland bench in joy, his goal seemingly sealing a tournament win.
The Terps only needed to see off the Bears for seven more minutes, but it took less than three for Missouri State to carve open a languishing backline.
In the 85th minute, Jon Koka found himself unmarked in the box, lifting the ball over Jamie Lowell and into the net — blowing the game open as the clock dwindled.
The Bears made the most of that time. With 40 seconds to play, Brett St. Martin misjudged a lofty clearance and Koka pounced, running onto the ball and calmly tucking in the winner.
“When you score a goal in the NCAA playoff game with six minutes to go and you give up two goals, that’s just tough to take,” Cirovski said.
In a season marked by injury and personnel changes — some of which brought about a rotating roster on the defensive end — it’s perhaps of little surprise that Maryland appeared unsteady as games wore down.
Experienced right back Ben Di Rosa offered a steady presence for two games, before departing to the pros. St. Martin spent a bulk of the season playing through various knocks. Richardson played in three different defensive spots over the course of the 11 games. And the emerging German left back, Alex Nitzl, suffered a muscle injury in the Big Ten tournament, sidelining him for the Missouri State clash.
Such knocks and departures left the Terps exposed against more attacking opponents as the clock ran down, susceptible to late charges and dramatic finishes. It only makes sense, then, that Maryland conceded late to Missouri State and Penn State — both squads among the top 25 nationally in goals per game.
Still, in crucial moments, in big games, the Terps went missing. And it’s that edge, that focus, that will to drive a game over the line, that Maryland lacked.
So, what Ferri started on March 19, Koka finished on May 2.
“Too many times this year, we’ve given up a goal in mental moments,” Cirovski said.
And on Sunday, one of those moments sent the Terps home early.