Maryland shut out in Battle for the DMV

Goalkeeper Niklas Neumann dove hard to his left and parried a hard hit shot. The Maryland goalie tried to rush to his feet again, aware that the ball had fallen to Virginia winger Nathaniel Crofts on the edge of the box. But he was too late. Crofts lashed a deflected shot that rippled the back of the net. 

Crofts’ strike was the first of two Virginia goals in the space of 135 seconds — the only two in what was otherwise a tight contest. 

Though Maryland dominated possession, the two-goal deficit proved to be too much to overcome, and the Terps fell 2-0 to Virginia at Audi Field. 

“We didn’t match their intensity or their quality, particularly in the first 15-20 minutes of the game,” coach Sasho Cirovski said. “That was the most disappointing part of the evening.” 

In the second installment of Maryland and Virginia’s Audie Field slate, the Terps failed to keep up with the ‘Hoos for the opening 20 minutes. Two goals in quick succession around the 20 minute mark effectively ended the game before Maryland good get in it. And although Maryland showed some promise in the second half, they weren’t clinical enough to get back into the contest. 

Virginia started the game on the front foot. With a fluid 3-4-3 formation, the ‘Hoos pushed numbers forward in attack. And they nearly got on the scoresheet early, with goalie Niklas Neumann making an acrobatic save to keep the game level. 

But the ‘Hoos pressure soon yielded results. Neumann made another athletic save but was helpless as Natanaiel Crofts blasted a shot past him in the 20th minute to open the scoring. And they struck again three minutes later. Virginia’s high press forced an errant pass from Ben DiRosa. Crofts picked up the loose ball and fed Daryl Dike for a wonderful curled effort into the top corner. 

“[Dike] is a good player,” Ben DiRosa said. “They’re a good team and we gotta learn from it.” 

Trailing 2-0, Maryland changed personnel. Winger Brayan Padilla sat along with attacking midfielder Luke Brown. The replacements— Malcom Johnston and Justin Harris— helped the Terps settle into the game a bit more. They put pressure on the Virginia backline, giving Maryland more attacking opportunities in the final third. 

“We definitely had some good spells in there,”striker Eric Matzelevich said. “The connections need to keep coming better: the final ball, final shot. It all needs to be a bit better.” 

Both sides had half chances, but none posed a serious threat to keep the game level. Maryland enjoyed possession in Virginia’s half, with usual center midfielder Eli Crognale serving as a No. 10. But the squad could not find the final pass. Despite sustained Maryland pressure, Virginia maintained a 2-0 lead. 

Cirovski changed formation in the second half to a more attacking 3-5-2 formation pushing wing backs high up the pitch. The three at the back matched up well with Dike, leaving the striker isolated with extra defenders for cover. In response, Virginia also switched things up, shifting to a narrower four and limiting Maryland opportunities. 

And it worked. Maryland poured men forward to get back into the game but seldom broke into the Virginia penalty area. Meanwhile, the ‘Hoos saw out the contest comfortably, breaking up play and leaving Maryland few options other than long passes to lone strikers up front.

“We’re struggling right now with holding on to the ball, with having players in proper support positions,” Cirovski said. “We’re just not penetrating.” 

With their outlets cut off, Maryland failed to get on the scoreboard in the second half. In the so-called battle for the DMV, the Terps were left out of the fight. 

“This team has to learn to become the hunter again,” Cirovski said. “Teams will come in with their A game, every game.”