Clinical first half leads Maryland men’s soccer to victory over CSUF

Maryland men’s soccer’s season has been defined by a lack of first half goals. Prior to Saturday night’s matchup against Cal State Fullerton, the Terps had only found the back of the net twice in the opening 45 minutes. 

Those demons appeared to be exorcised as Maryland scored two times in just three first half minutes in a cold night at Ludwig Field. 

And the strikes would prove to be enough for the entire 90, as Maryland comfortably dispatched CSUF 2-0 for its second ranked win of the season. 

“I’m delighted with the performance,” coach Sasho Cirovski said. “And very pleased that we got the victory tonight.” 

After beating two players and finding space in the box, midfielder Malcolm Johnston seemed destined to find the back of the net. But he erratically swung his left foot as the ball slightly bobbled — sending it into the night sky. 

More chances ensued, with forward Justin Gielen skewing a shot just outside the far post. Somehow, despite Maryland dominance, the game remained scoreless after 10 minutes. 

But things quickly turned around for the Terps, with two goals in three minutes. 

First to get on the board was midfielder Eli Crognale. After winger Justin Harris was hacked down in the box, the senior captain stepped up on the spot-kick. He showed no nerves, blasting the ball clinically into the bottom left corner, sending the Maryland faithful into raptures. 

“It felt amazing,” Crognale said. “I don’t get on the scoresheet often. When you do, it’s a good feeling.”

Just three minutes later, midfielder Malcolm Johnston doubled the advantage. A Crognale free kick bounced around in the box, and the freshman reacted first, stabbing the ball into the back of the net. 

Over the rest of the first half, the game became significantly choppier. As the Terps tried to play more conservatively, tempers flared. Forward Eric Matzelevich tussled with two defenders in pursuit of a 50/50 ball. After the play, Matzelevich shoved Edward Salazar, prompting Sam Molz and Rei Dowart to get involved. Salazar and Dowart, as well as the Maryland captain, earned yellow cards for their troubles. 

“We were getting in their heads,” Crognale said. “That’s a good thing.”

Towards the end of the period, CSUF had a few chances of its own. Winger Christian Pinzon was a constant menace on the left, and twice cut inside onto his favored right foot. But Niklas Neumann was equal to his efforts — including a dramatic diving save as time expired in the first half. 

“That’s huge going into half time,” Ben Di Rosa said. “Keeping the other team from having momentum.”

While it would have been easy to sit on a 2-0 lead, Maryland continued to push up and search for a third. Midfielder Nick Richardson established control in the middle of the pitch, intercepting passes and breaking up play with aplomb. This set the table for Maryland to hit with speed. And they almost found the back of the net early, with defender Johannes Bergmann putting a header wide in the 47th minute. 

“We didn’t take the foot off the pedal,” Cirovski said. “We kept pushing and pushing.”

Despite Maryland’s control of the game, CSUF had a few looks on counter attacks. It constantly looked for Pinzon and Jessy Sotelo on either wing, hoping to catch Maryland’s full backs a step too far forward — yet both defenders held their ground. 

“I was trying to block off the inside,” Di Rosa said. “Trying to be in good position.” 

And the Terps showed no signs of letting up their 2-0 lead in a composed second half performance. It wasn’t the prettiest 45 minutes, but Maryland dug in and killed off a 2-0 win. 

“Our goal was always to be good in September and to be great in October,” Cirovski said. “We’re off to a good start.”