For the second straight game, Maryland men’s soccer needed a moment of magic to save them from a cagey 90 minutes. While Eric Matzelevich produced a wonder strike against Akron, a more unlikely source stepped up to squeak out a win against Villanova.
With 15 minutes remaining and the game seemingly going nowhere, Ben Di Rosa received a ball on the edge of the box and showed no hesitation in lashing the ball past Villanova goalie Carson Williams.
Di Rosa’s second career goal would be all Maryland needed to deposit a physical Villanova team, as the Terps pulled out another 1-0 victory at Ludwig Field.
“David gave me a great feed at the top of the box,” Di Rosa said. “I knew I should take a quick touch and a quick hit.”
Villanova made life difficult for Maryland in a scrappy Monday night contest. With both teams coming off short rest, it was an often sloppy and scrappy affair. However, Maryland piled pressure on in the second half to squeak out a win.
After shining in two performances between the sticks, it looked as if Niklas Neumann had the goalie spot nailed down for the Terps. However, his claim on the spot was uncertain in the fifth minute as he clashed heads with Villanova forward Lyam MacKinnon. Unable to continue, Neumann made way for Russell Shealy.
And Shealy had to be alert early on. Villanova bombarded Maryland’s back line with a barrage of long balls, giving Shealy plenty of action. But he performed admirably, shepherding the backline while also making clearances himself.
Maryland’s attack, however, did not play with the same composure. Under constant pressure from Villanova’s physical back four, the Terps struggled to connect passes for most of the first half. The closest Maryland came was a lashed shot from midfielder Mike Heitzmann, who ripped one into the side netting late in the first half.
“We didn’t come out as sharp as we wanted to be,” Di Rosa said. “It’s kind of tough to have a quick turn around… but we know there’s no excuses.”
Over the course of the opening 45 minutes, Maryland registered five shots, but none were actual threats. The Terps were stifled by a fearsome Villanova defense that left Maryland’s strike-force feeding off scraps.
With so few looks, the teams went into halftime scoreless and needing an injection of energy for the second half.
Undoubtedly frustrated by his squad’s underwhelming first half, coach Sasho Cirovski spent most of the opening 45 minutes shouting instructions from the sideline. At the start of the second period, it appeared that the Terps had acknowledged his greivances.
“We felt like it was coming,” Di Rosa said. “We knew we had the ball a little bit more than them and that they would probably be a little bit more tired than us in the second half.”
Maryland came out of the break a more fluid squad, sending full backs Matt Di Rosa and Ben Di Rosa flying down the wings to create opportunities. In the 50th minute, the attacking mindset gave the Terps their best chance so far, when Malcolm Johnston was hacked down in the box. Johannes Bergmann stepped up to take the ensuing penalty, but goalie Carson Williams guessed correctly and parried the center back’s shot away from danger.
Cirovski then brought Justin Gielen and Luke Brown into the game for more creativity in the final third, and an influx of corners and half chances followed. Winger Brayan Padilla fired a free kick over the bar from 20 yards out. Gielen was a constant menace making runs between Villanova’s center back and full back.
“We needed to make sure we start getting in behind them a little bit,” Cirovski said. “We definitely wanted to get a little more of an overload.”
It was Maryland’s sustained pressure that yielded the only goal of the night. With the Terps deep in Villanova territory, Malcolm Johnston found David Kovacic on the edge of the box. Kovacic removed the ball from his feet and found Di Rosa who blasted the ball into the back of the net.
Maryland comfortably saw out the game from there, with Villanova rarely threatening for the last 15 minutes, as the Terps earned another 1-0 win.
“I love my team. They knew they were struggling in the first half,” Cirovski said. “We just encouraged them and challenged them at half time and they came out with a great response.”