Maryland men’s soccer scores early, cruises through opening round of NCAA tournament

Photo Courtesy of Maryland Athletics

Nick Richardson sent a cross into the box for a streaking Malcolm Johnston, who put the ball off his head to an open Stefan Copetti in the middle. Copetti collected himself and put a header past FDU goalkeeper Spencer King just two minutes in to get things going for the Terps.

Maryland topped Fairleigh Dickinson, 5-2, advancing to the second round for the first time since 2019.

Trying to avoid an upset in the first round for the second consecutive season, the Terps got off in a hurry against Fairleigh Dickinson in the opening round of the NCAA tournament and never looked back. 

“I think tonight you saw an inspired performance by our team,” said Head Coach Sasho Cirovski. “We had a great week of preparation, and we came out flying.”

After being named to the NCAA’s best XI in college soccer on Tuesday, Richardson wasted no time setting up the Copetti goal to put Maryland up. 

Eight minutes after the opener, Joshua Bolma drove across the field and drew a foul outside the box to set a free kick up for Johnston. Maryland’s captain collected himself and brought the Terps’ lead to two with a booming kick into the upper right corner. 

Maryland looked sharp throughout the first half against the Northeast Conference Champion.

In the 26th minute, Johnston found true freshman Albi Ndrenika all alone on the six-yard line with a brilliant backheel pass to extend the lead to three.

“It’s almost impossible to prepare for that back heel. That was just a Messi-like play,” said Fairleigh Dickinson head coach Seth Roland. “If I wasn’t coaching, I would have been applauding.”

Ndrenika was called on to start in his first career game due to Griffin Dillon’s suspension, and took advantage, tallying his first career goal as a Terp. 

Johnston’s three first-half points lifted Maryland to a comfortable lead going into the dressing room with just a half to play.

“I think Malcolm is playing right now as one of the top midfielders in the country,” said Cirovski. “I think it’s exactly what we need from a great player and a leader like him right now.”

The Terps dominated the ball with 66% possession through the first 45 minutes, holding Fairleigh Dickinson to zero shots on target. 

“It’s tough to score when they don’t have the ball,” said senior defender Chris Rindov. “It’s definitely our advantage to keep it for that long, and I feel like we were very confident in that first half.”

Maryland’s first team remained on the field to open the second half, keeping FDU at bay.

The Terps continued to keep the pressure on the Knights, and in the 65th minute, Joe Suchecki gathered a pass from Copetti inside the box and put the ball into the bottom right corner to get the lead to four. 

Maryland followed the goal with attacking pressure and strong defensive play, looking to keep FDU scoreless. 

Sasho Cirovski began working through his bench with 20 minutes to play, hoping to give his group some much-needed rest before a second-round showdown with Cornell. 

Fairleigh Dickinson would end up finding the net, their first goal coming from freshman Matt Giraldo in the 74th minute after an errant deflection inside the box.  

Maryland settled back in, and Hunter George got the lead back to four in the 81st minute after sitting the first half to cap off a fantastic night for Maryland soccer.

Giraldo would score another in the 88th minute to cut the lead, but the Terps got the last laugh, defeating Fairleigh Dickinson, 5-2.

The Terps travel to Ithaca, NY to take on No. 14 Cornell in the quarterfinals on Sunday, where Maryland will look to get back to the semifinals for the first time since their national championship run in 2018.

“It’s difficult to win anywhere in college. It’s tough on the road, but we’ve been quite good on the road this year,” said Cirvoski. “We know it’s gonna be cold, and we’ll be ready to embrace that challenge along with a really good Cornell team.”