A luminous Ludwig Field is a location at which Maryland men’s soccer has gotten some of its most memorable results. It got one more on Friday with an emphatic, 3-1, win over Northwestern, resuming its climb up the Big Ten standings.
A big individual matchup heading into the match was not even on the field. Northwestern coach Russell Payne returned to the field where he helped Maryland win their first national title in program history 16 years ago as a player. Cirovski knew Payne being on the other sideline wouldn’t be easy, but he also knew his priorities.
“It was tough for me before the game … to get super jazzed up. But once the whistle blew, we wanted to kick their ass,” Cirovski said
With their two anchors, Nick Richardson and captain Brett St. Martin, missing due to injury and suspension, respectively, Cirovski and his Terps opted to switch from the preferred back three to a back four. The switch gave Kento Abe his fourth start of the season and saw William Kulvik and Chris Rindov shift into the middle. The switches made for a back-line that wasn’t accustomed to playing with each other.
A moment of indecision between passing and maintaining possession from Chris Rindov led to the first and only Northwestern goal in the 15th minute, but the defense regrouped, and the Terps never looked back from there.
Sasho preached the importance of pairings and units all year, and Justin Gielen and Brayan Padilla, two players who are very familiar with Cirovski’s pairing system, were subbed on in the 31st minute to try and find the levelor.
Just three minutes later they showed why the chemistry between pairings is so crucial. Padilla whipped in a left-footed ball from the right side of the pitch, and Gielen guided home a calm finish to level the game.
Sasho praised the efforts of the two senior supersubs after going down a goal early.
“They came out and within the first few minutes made a difference,” said Cirovski.
Gielen, who has spent considerable time on the bench this season, has made his impact when called upon and insists that all he cares about is contribution, regardless of his role.
“Whether I’m playing or not playing I just want to be around the guys, contributing in any way that I can and just try to be as selfless as possible,” Gielen said.
Maryland held 72% possession in the first half, outshooting the Wildcats 11 to three but only had one goal to show for it.
The Terps maintained their push for a goal to take the lead, and they were rewarded just four minutes out of the break. Jacen Russell-Rowe scored his first goal since August 29th off of nice interplay between Caden Stafford and Ben Bender to cap off a resounding response from the Terps.
After the Russell-Rowe goal, Maryland stepped off of the attacking pedal slightly and began to coast through the game by winning the midfield battles, which they did handily.
Ben Bender and Malcolm Johnston combined defensively to limit the Northwestern front line to only one shot in the second half. Bender, who usually plays in the attacking midfield, proved to be more than serviceable playing in the defensive midfield as a box-to-box player.
“My mentality was different this game. I grew up playing this position, and it’s natural.” Bender said.
Johnston got his reward for playing a splendid game, as he buried a penalty to kill off the Wildcats and give Maryland the two-goal lead that they rightfully earned after a dominant performance all over the field.
In the last Friday night lights game of the year, Maryland played their most convincing game in some time.
The Terps will start a new non-conference slate against Delaware and Pacific. The Terps travel to Newark to take on the Blue Hens on Tuesday at 7 p.m.