As the final buzzer was heard across Ludwig Field, the University of Maryland players dropped. A few fell to the ground. Soon coaches and teammates walked over and offered comfort and a pat on the back. Others crouched to the turf as tears streamed down their faces and onto jerseys. Some hunched over as if they had just been punched square in the stomach.
For the most part they had been.
The No.12 seeded Louisville Cardinals dropped the No. 5 seeded Terps 4-2 Sunday night in College Park, securing a trip to the NCAA quarterfinals in Hoover, Al., while putting an end to Maryland’s roller coaster season.
“They deserved to win tonight,” said a somber Sasho Cirovski. “They were a highly motivated… and I think the right team won…”
The Cardinals (14-6-2) pounded the injury-plagued Maryland defense with a long ball based attack, which was without senior captain and starting center back Alex Lee who was injured against West Virginia. Midfielder Helge Leikvang shifted back in Lee’s presence, but could not match No. 18’s speed and athleticism.
Head coach Ken Lolla explained that the Cardinal’s long ball approach was used to exploit the Terps’ high backline.
Louisville’s Colin Rolfe was the key cog in executing the plan, after gashing the defense for a goal and three assists. Rolfe helped the Big East team score first after sending a cross far post to the speedy Nick DeLeon who out ran three defenders to chip the cross in from five yards out past Keith Cardona, who made his second consecutive start.
The true freshman showed flashes of brilliance in the NCAA Third Round game, with two breathtaking saves. Cardona was challenged two minutes into the game after he rejected a high chip shot by launching himself like a rebounding center high into the air. A minute into the second half, the 6-foot-4-inch keeper unleashed his frame to make a diving save off a ripper from 20 yards out.
Yet, at times he played like a freshman, seemingly hesitant to challenge attackers and Louisville’s second goal, scored by Rolfe on a rocket from 15 yards away, hit Cardona right in the hands, but he was unable to hold on to it. Despite his four goal give up, Cirovski backed his decision to start the freshman over fifth-year senior Will Swaim.
“I don’t second guess myself,” explained Cirovski. “Keith wasn’t the reason we lost tonight.”
Maryland’s offense didn’t exactly flounder as it had in its previous four games, excluding their 4-0 win over West Virginia, but it was merely a shell of the high powered offense that ravaged college soccer for most of the season.
Casey Townsend knotted the score at 1-1 in the 33rd minute with some help from a perfectly placed Patrick Mullins cross after Townsend snuck behind a defender at the far post and headed it past keeper Andre Boudreaux. The equalizer gave the senior his 17th of the season and moved him up to third all-time in career goals.
That would also be the last time the Terrapin faithful would see No.11 score in a Maryland uniform.
Senior Matt Oduaran provided what could have been a Hollywood moment after equalizing the game again at 2-2 in the 67th minute for his first goal of the season and third of his career.
But once again the Maryland defense could not contain Rolfe who assisted on the game winner and dagger for Louisville in the 78th and 83rd minute respectively. While it was the offense that provided concern as they entered the playoffs, it was the defense that led them out.
Before the season, the Terps set out to accomplish three goals: capture an ACC regular season title, an ACC Tournament Title and a National Championship. Of course none of these would be reached, when the painful truth was that this team had the talent and leadership to achieve every one of those.
“Our time will come and I’m hoping that its next year,” said Cirovski. “We’re going to have a great squad next year and were going to start working on it Tuesday.”
Cirovski is right. Like the many before, every season ends at some point, with a new one right on the horizon. With it comes new players, new starters, and of course a fresh slate.
But don’t expect those three goals to be any different.
Player of the Game: While it is clearly Rolfe, I can’t ignore that on this night one of the greatest Terps in Maryland soccer history’s career ended. Casey Townsend finishes his career with 43 goals and one of the fiercest competitors to every step foot on Ludwig Field. He helped bring a national title, ACC Championships and countless wins for the powerhouse program and that earns him player for the game one last time.