Road wins are hard to come by in the Big Ten, and Maryland men’s soccer is proof of the difficulty. Going into Friday’s matchup against Ohio State, the Terps had won eight games at home, but were winless on the road.
Thus, they went to Columbus needing a win — not only for Big Ten success, but to also prove that victory on the road was attainable.
Maryland did both on Friday, twice punctuating a choppy 90 minutes en route to a 2-0 victory.
“As the game went on, things started to open up,” Justin Gielen said. “What little opportunities we had, we took advantage of them well.”
Coming into Friday night, Ohio State had only won one of its last eight games. And for long stretches, it showed. Despite being the home team, the Buckeyes sat back relentlessly. This limited Maryland’s chances, but also prevented Ohio State from getting forward. Ultimately, it came down to a battle of execution in front of goal — a fight Maryland was able to win.
Ohio State had the better go of things in the opening exchanges. Maryland was pushed onto the back foot while the home side successfully worked the ball around. But it was to no avail, as the Buckeyes’ shots either sailed wide or were denied by Terrapin goalkeeper Niklas Neumann.
“We were just connected from back to front the entire game,” Brett St. Martin said. “We knew our roles and carried it out very well.”
Though the Terps eventually found a foothold, their historic struggles against back fives continued. Notably, the Terps struggled to break down Virginia, falling 2-0 in early September at Audi Field. And for most of the first half, it appeared those struggles may continue. With an extra defender, Ohio State was able to pressure the ball while also marking Maryland’s three forwards.
“Some teams are just much more direct and some teams will just sit in,” coach Sasho Cirovski said. “That’s what you get throughout the year.”
But Maryland exorcised their 5-3-2 demons — albeit in mundane fashion.
It was a rather simple goal. Eli Crognale picked up the ball on the right side of the pitch and whipped in a cross for Gielen. The forward beat his marker to the ball and found the back of the net with a bullet header.
“I always look for the header. I love getting on the end of crosses,” Gielen said. “It’s a lot more about time and effort.”
Few celebrations followed, Maryland’s reaction as understated as the rest of the half. The Terps made an odd substitution, as Russell Shealy checked in for Neumann in goal due to stomach trouble.
Still, there was little action for the rest of the period. The Terps went into the break leading, but needing a jolt of energy to hold a precarious 1-0 lead.
But the necessary spark never really came. Out of the break, neither team found the intensity required to either extend the lead or get back in the game. Maryland got on the ball a lot more, giving Crognale the freedom to orchestrate play in the final third. Ohio State’s defense held strong, nullifying most Maryland attacks.
The Terps had sporadic chances, with Ben Di Rosa and Crognale hitting the target. They were brief punctures of another competitive yet drab sequence.
However, Maryland did have something to celebrate. In the 85th minute, Maryland produced an attack from very little. After a disorganized series of passes and deflections, Malcolm Johnston seized on the loose ball and found the top right corner without hesitation. This time, the celebrations were much more lively — and for good reason. Despite not playing their best, the Terps found a way to win on the road.
“Our goal this game was to get a defining road win,” Cirovski said. “Mission accomplished.”