As soon as Luke Brown crashed onto the Audi Field grass, Maryland men’s soccer had a problem. The team’s primary attacking midfielder was helped off the pitch with no signs of returning soon. Coach Sasho Cirovski needed to find a replacement at such a vital position in Maryland’s system.
He played around with various options— Eli Crognale slotted in for a while against UCLA, and Mike Heitzmann got a few minutes too in Los Angeles— but on Friday night, Maryland found its solution.
Facing a competitive and disciplined Akron team, Cirovksi deployed the technical Brayan Padilla at the No. 10 role. The sophomore thrived with the creative freedom granted by the position while also organizing a fearsome Maryland counter-press — marking his best performance in a Maryland jersey to date.
“Tonight [Padilla] was really outstanding,” Cirovski said. “He found the ball in some pockets, helped us in possession.”
Traditionally, the “No. 10” is the team’s central attacking midfielder, taking on the job of primary playmaker in the final third. Playing the No. 10 role requires a depth of understanding of both sides of the ball. The player must be tactically astute enough to know when to pressure the ball and when to drop back. They must also be comfortable playing quickly and unafraid to test the goalkeeper. Padilla excelled in all three areas Friday night.
In his 27 years as Maryland’s head coach, Cirovski has developed and an aggressive style of play.
“We’re known for our counter pressing,” Cirovski said. “Our ability to win the ball and create chances.”
Padilla embodied that philosophy on Friday night. He showed no signs of relative inexperience at the No. 10 position, pressing high while directing others to do so. his was most evident in the run up to Maryland’s winning goal.
Padilla (middle of the screen) shifted his body, forcing Akron defender Marco Milanese to play a high-risk pass to Skye Harter. As soon as Harter collected the ball, he was surrounded by three white shirts with no easy outlets.
Nick Richardson was then able to win the ball, setting up Eric Matzelevich’s wonder strike.
Later in the game, though, Akron adjusted. With the Maryland press being so effective, they deployed the imposing Henrique Cruz as a defensive midfielder to secure possession. Still, Padilla and the rest of the front three pushed high and dispossessed him frequently.
After Padilla and his teammates won the ball back through the press, the No. 10’s effective passing helped facilitate the attack.
The attacking midfielder in Maryland’s system should be able to consistently drop deeper into the midfield and orchestrate the offense. On numerous occasions, Padilla did just that, finding Maryland’s pacey wingers in one-on-one matchups.
For the last 20 minutes of the contest, the Zips relentlessly pushed men up the field in search of an equalizer. This left them exposed on defense and gave Maryland opportunities to hit on the counterattack. Although they couldn’t find a goal, the Terps played quickly out of their own box. Padilla was a big part of that — sending first-time balls down the wing to feed Maryland’s attackers.
Shooting from Distance
Cirovski often refers to Padilla as a goal-scoring threat, and part of the reasoning for playing him in a more central role was to get him more chances to score.
“We tried to get him unlocked and sometimes in the middle of the park you can get closer to goal,” Cirovski said.
Padilla had numerous chances on Friday, leading the team with five shots. And despite only one being on target, he came tantalizingly close.
Matzelevich’s effort was the one that found the net on Friday night, but Padilla got his looks too. The freshman’s confidence is steadily growing with every game, which could be crucial for the Terps as they approach Big Ten play.
After nailing a set piece against UCLA, he almost set Ludwig Field alight with a whipped free kick.
Padilla’s standout performance against Akron gives Cirovski a good problem to have. With Brown and William James Hervé nearing their returns from injury, the Terps will have competition for starting spots. Brown may be the one groomed for the No. 10 position, but Padilla made his case for minutes in that role going forward.
“We’re gonna need essentially two starters at every position,” Cirovski said. “That’s what we’re trying to build in right now.”