Maryland men’s soccer team played in their final exhibition game Saturday night. The St. John\’s Red Storm dominated the Terrapins, and came out of Ludwig Field with a 2-0 win. Danny Bedoya got the first goal, off of a free kick just outside the box, and with less than 5 minutes to play Adrian L’Esperance capped off the game with a strike 10 yards outside the box.
Coach Sasho Cirovski elected to start four freshman Saturday, including the 2012 top rated goalkeeper Zach Steffen. While Sasho had a young lineup in the back, it was the upper classmen in the middle and up top who struggled. Maryland finished the game with 11 shots to St. John’s 15; the Terps only had four shots at halftime.
Throughout the game, Maryland struggled to put together strings of good possession. Senior midfielder Sunny Jane and sophomore forward Schillo Tshuma were able to break down defenders, but not enough to get good looks at goal. MAC Hermann Trophy winner Patrick Mullins, was quiet for most of the night. Redshirt senior Jake Pace entered the game mid way through the first half and provided the offense with a spark. He set up Mullins with a point-blank header, which Mullins put just over the crossbar.
The Terrapins were sluggish for most of the match, St. John’s pressured them up and down the pitch, which prevented Maryland from getting into their rhythm. The Red Storm game plan from the beginning was to pressure the younger defenders, and prevent Maryland from getting the ball to Tshuma and Mullins up top. The strategy paid off as Maryland was unable to create many opportunities throughout the 90 minute match.
While many players return from last year’s top ranked team, this result is an early wake up call. If Maryland wants to be back in the College Cup, they are going to need to be at their best every night they take the field. On Saturday evening, they were sluggish and at times appeared caught off guard by the St. John’s pressure.
On a positive note, freshman Zach Steffen looked comfortable and capable from the opening kick. The freshman enters College Park with a lot of hype, but is currently behind junior Keith Cardona for the starting spot. Steffen was a member of the U-18 USA National Team and has been called up to the U-20 team on several occasions. TopDrawerSoccer.Com rated him the 13th best player in the class of 2012 and the number one goalkeeper. He was tested early, but was confident throughout his time in goal. With a smaller crowd than a regular season game, everyone could hear Steffen barking out orders to his defenders.
Unfortunately for Steffen, he gave up a goal right before being subbed out for Cody Niedermeier. Danny Bedoya’s free kick was one that many goalkeepers would have struggled with, as it hit the inner part of the crossbar and bounced down past the line. Steffen wasn’t able to get up high enough to deflect the ball, and it put a damper on his strong performance.
Redshirt senior Jake Pace, was a welcomed addition off the bench tonight. The forward came in and immediately had a positive impact on the game. Pace has great size and quickness and he was able to use both to create a couple of chances in the first and second half. I would look for Sasho to start Pace once the season begins, and drop Mullins behind Pace and Tshuma. Mullins has the ability to finish and create, while Pace has the ability to disrupt defenders with his size. Once down a goal, Pace ripped the best shot of the night for Maryland, which was stopped by the St. John’s keeper. Mullins missed a chance for the put back, since the keeper was only able to deflect Pace’s shot.
Not the result Maryland was looking for before they begin the season, but playing a good opponent in St. John’s gives Maryland a lot to think about. Last season is over, and for the 2013 Terrapins to succeed, they will need to put the successful 2012 season behind them. They have a target on their back and will get everyone’s best shot. If they don’t bring their best game every night, then they will struggle.
Maryland opens the season this Friday, August 30, at #20 Stanford. They stay in California and face University of California – Berkeley on Sunday September 1, before opening ACC play Friday September 6 vs Duke at Ludwig Field.