COLLEGE PARK, Md. – The Division I men’s college coaches’ committee of the National Soccer Coaches Association of America released a video last week with its chairman Sasho Cirovski outlining proposals to extend the college season to a full academic year.
The embodiment of that vision was on display Friday night as Cirovski’s No. 7 ranked Maryland hosted local rival and No. 24 Georgetown at Ludwig Field in front of 7,413 fans.
This thrilling contest looked set for overtime when Georgetown’s Nigerian forward Ifunanyachi Achara tapped home Matt Ledder’s driven cross with six minutes remaining to cancel out Eryk Williamson’s opener.
One final twist was in store when Maryland’s Gordon Wild was tripped inside Georgetown’s penalty area with 47 seconds remaining. The Cologne, Germany native saw his spot kick saved by Hoyas goalkeeper J.T. Marcinkowski before netting the rebound to seal a dramatic 2-1 victory for the Terrapins.
“It’s a great rivalry,” said Cirovski after Maryland ended a 3-game winless streak against a team they had beaten in their first 28 encounters. “We have so much respect for the Georgetown players and coaches and I know they do for us as well.
“It was a good show tonight.”
This is what the college game could become if liberated from its current blink-and-you-miss-it fall schedule. An expectant crowd was in place well before kickoff to create an intimidating entrance for the visitors and the sort of vocal and visual support that inspires any player. Both teams were fully prepared for the showdown. Players were fit, focused and ready for battle, and Maryland’s athletics department had the chance to promote a burgeoning rivalry that drew Ludwig Field’s fourth-largest crowd.
Freshman Achara showed the first glimpse of his raw talent on five minutes when he raced to the endline before sending in a dangerous cutback. Bakie Goodman could not adjust his feet quickly enough to steer a clean strike on target.
Maryland quickly assumed the bulk of possession and territory for the rest of the first half. Wild cut in off the right flank to bend a left-foot shot narrowly beyond Marcinkowski’s far post before forcing the former United States Under-18 national team goalkeeper into a fantastic reaction save from close range.
Georgetown’s response was a hopeful long pass into the penalty box that saw Achara fashion a shot on goal with a spectacular overhead kick. Terrapins’ goalkeeper Cody Niedermeier swatted the ball clear.
A tactical tweak by Cirovski allowed Maryland to break the deadlock 10 minutes after the interval. Williamson switched to the left side from his starting role at the tip of the midfield diamond. He had already found a few seams of space before Amar Sejdic played a perfectly weighted through ball that put Williamson through one-on-one against Marcinkowski. The sophomore from Alexandria, Virginia took one touch before clipping a delightful finish over the advancing goalkeeper.
Reigning Big East Conference champion Georgetown came into the game having started the season with two tough single-goal losses to Akron and West Virginia at the Akron Classic event. They showed impressive resilience to weather Maryland’s pressure and force a way back into the contest. One great move midway through the second half resulted in junior midfielder Arun Basuljevic firing in a shot that Niedermeier gathered.
The Hoyas were showing occasional signs of weakness in dealing with early, direct balls behind the back line though. Peter Schropp misjudged a long goal kick on 74 minutes that allowed Terrapins forward Sebastian Elney to momentarily get behind the defense. Schropp’s centerback partner Brendan McDonough made a magnificent recovery challenge on the 18-yard-line to snuff out the danger.
Achara finally broke Georgetown’s scoring duck after 264 minutes of regular-season play, and few fans would have bemoaned college soccer’s mandatory overtime on this occasion. Yet the Hoyas’ rearguard began to creak as the clock ticked down to zero. Left-back Dylan Nealis picked up an injury that forced him off the field for a few minutes and left head coach Brian Wiese reshuffling his defense.
Nealis returned only to pick up a severe cramp in his right leg after leaping to win a header. He was helped back to the sideline as Maryland took advantage of Georgetown’s distracted state to nick a late, late winner.
“When you’re playing Maryland in this derby and you’re in this environment, it really focuses any team that comes in,” said Wiese after the game. “I thought our guys did a really good job not being intimidated.”
Maryland improved to 2-0-1 on the season ahead of Monday’s contest with the University of South Florida at College Park. Georgetown falls to 0-3-0 although Wiese stressed that his players should not worry about their record at this stage after a deliberately testing start to the year.
“This was an NCAA playoff environment,” Wiese said. “That’s why we scheduled that Akron game. That’s why we want to come here. When we go to Creighton at the end of the Big East season it’s going to feel just like this and it’s going to have league implications.
“I think the guys will walk into any environment now and feel like they’ve seen this before.”
Maryland (4-4-2): Cody Niedermeier – Diego Silva, Suli Dainkeh, Alex Crognale, Chris Odoi-Atsem – Amar Sejdic, Cody Albrecht, Jake Rozhansky, Eryk Williamson – Gordon Wild, Sebastian Elney
Georgetown (4-3-3): J.T. Marcinkowski – Dylan Nealis, Peter Schropp, Brendan McDonough, Kyle Zajec – Christopher Lema, Arun Basuljevic, Bakie Goodman – Matt Ledder, Brett Campbell, Ifunanyachi Achara
Referee: Jorge Cuate | Assistants: Eulogio Villapando, Matt Nelson | Fourth official: Thomas Grobeaux
55’ | MAR – Eryk Williamson (Amar Sejdic)
84’ | GEO – Ifunanyachi Achara (Matt Ledder, Davey Mason)
90’ | MAR – Gordon Wild
90’ | GEO – Brendan McDonough (yellow card)