Maryland men’s soccer sported a different look as it lined up to start its match against No. 16 Northwestern Friday night.
Coach Sasho Cirovski had largely used a 4-3-3 through the first two months of the season. But he put his team in a 4-4-2 formation against the Wildcats.
The switch allowed two forwards to play solely in the center of the pitch and two midfielders to spread out wide. The adjustment produced numerous scoring chances, as Maryland outshot Northwestern 15 to 10 in the 2-0 loss and registered seven shots on target, its most in a Big Ten game this season.
Cirovski’s team went winless in September and scored just three goals in six games. The coach used the formation once before against Michigan, a game where Maryland scored two of its three goals for the month.
“We played like that earlier this year, and we had some success,” Cirovski said.
Luke van Heukelum and Max Riley started in the two forward roles while Stefan Copetti and Kenny Quist-Therson took up the wide midfield space. That opened holes in the middle of the field for Alex Nitzl and Leon Koehl to exploit.
The midfield duo linked up for Maryland’s first chance of the game six minutes into the contest.
Copetti played the ball to the middle of the field. Koehl drifted forward into space before passing to Nitzl, who took a touch to run into open space and struck a shot from distance. His effort rose past the outstretched hand of Northwestern goalkeeper Jackson Weyman but went too high and rang off the crossbar.
“I saw that there was space, I have time,” Nitzl said. “We wanted to start on the front foot and put them under pressure.”
More opportunities arose for Maryland through the use of its wide midfielders.
As Copetti received the ball out wide, he attempted to pass the ball further down the line to Koehl. The pass hit the outstretched arm of a Northwestern defender.
Koehl took the ensuing free kick, whipping the ball into the box. Weyman punched the cross away, but only as far as Riley. The forward launched a shot back on goal that Weyman parried inside the six-yard box to van Heukelum.
Van Heukelum took a shot from a tight angle but misplaced his attempt just wide of the post.
“Just having that wide play with our wide midfielders. Getting balls into the box with our two strikers,” Copetti said. “We have two guys in the box constantly and a weak sided midfielder also running into the box back post, [it] just creates a lot of opportunities [for] us.”
Maryland’s two striker setup constantly pressured the Northwestern backline in the second half as the Terps chased a goal. Riley, who Weyman denied in the first half, almost beat the keeper the second time around.
Mack DeVries sent a cross into the box as the Terps pushed forward. The ball bounced inside the box, high enough for Riley to head a looping attempt over Weyman.
But the ball hit the post and Weyman recovered in time to reclaim the ball.
“Our strikers, players in the box just got to find the opening and put the ball in the back of the net,” Cirovski said. “I think we had three or four in the six-yard box that we shot right at the goalkeeper.”
The Terps’ attack opened up in the new formation. But the next step as they seek their first conference win is to score off they opportunities they create.
“Good thing is we’re getting in those spots, we’re getting chances, and it’ll come,” Copetti said. “It’s only a matter of time before the goals start coming.”