A solid performance with 10 men: breaking down Maryland soccer’s draw with Wisconsin

Head Coach Sasho Cirovski expressed his displeasure with the referee. Midfielder Eli Crognale desperately tried to plead with the official. Midfielder Malcolm Johnston simply walked off the pitch. Maryland was dominating the first half against Wisconsin when the referee made a game-changing call. While hunting down a cross, Johnston collided with an opposing defender. Both slammed down into the turf, their legs entangled. As the Maryland freshman hauled himself up, his trailing leg made contact with the Wisconsin defender — and his opposite number grabbed his face in agony. 

Referee Mark Kadlecik briefly conferred with his assistant before walking over to Johnston and thrusting a red card high into the Madison sky. The home crowd jeered as Johnston as he walked off, sensing the magnitude of his ejection. But what should have been a death sentence for the Terps proved to be one of their finest performances of the season to date. 

Down to 10 men for 71 minutes, Maryland grinded out a hard-fought 0-0 draw in Madison. And while the Terps looked certain to find a breakthrough before Johnston’s sending off, they kept their discipline and never really looked unsettled in Friday night’s overtime draw, even while down a player. 

A flowing midfield 

It was a feisty 110 minutes in Madison. Passes glided on a glistening, water-damaged pitch. Thus making the kind of link-up play and quick build up that Maryland thrives off incredibly difficult to execute. Still, Maryland’s midfield triangle of Crognale, David Kovacic, and Brayan Padilla danced around the Wisconsin defence with aplomb. 

Wisconsin’s compact low block should have made things difficult for the Terps. Yet led by the drive of wing backs Nick Richardson and Ben Di Rosa, Maryland continuously found space in the final third. Such attacking play gave Maryland 12 shots in the first half, with only the assured play of Wisconsin goalie Dean Cowrdoy keeping the Terps off the board. 

After Johnston’s controversial sending off just before half time, the Terps projected to have a more difficult time creating chances from midfield. However the midfield triangle continued exert its control on the game. 

Composed defending

As the game wore on, Maryland’s tired legs started to show. Wisconsin hit on the break more regularly. Playing with three central defenders helped Maryland’s efforts to soak up pressure, but the Terps still looked vulnerable on occasion.

Sensing an opportunity to exploit some fatigue, Wisconsin introduced the speedy Andrew Akindele for the second half. His pace allowed the Badgers to hit on the break after defending deep — thus keeping Maryland’s center backs very busy. 

But Akindele and his attacking cohort never really got a good look on goal. Maryland — despite having one fewer player — excelled in its defensive transition. Lung-bursting runs from the wing backs ensured that all Wisconsin players were marked, and also made sure Akindele was double-teamed at all times. 

Maryland also pushed high up the pitch as much as possible to alleviate tensions. Playing a man down typically makes off-ball work far more difficult — presses are easier to break. Maryland’s held strong though, and the Terps were rarely exposed. 

It wasn’t an easy 110 minutes in Madison for either team. Maryland was unfortunate not to find the back of the net in the first half. Meanwhile, Wisconsin undoubtedly would have wanted to capitalize on its one-man advantage. Indeed, Maryland seemed doomed to fail when Johnston saw red in the 40th minute. But the Terps still pieced together a controlled performance, stealing a hard-earned draw in the face of certain defeat.