SANTA BARBARA, California -- A historic run for the Maryland Terrapins lifted the program to their fourth National Championship on Sunday night with a 1-0 win over Akron.
“I’ve never had a team go through an NCAA Tournament without giving up a goal,” Sasho Cirovksi said gleefully after the game.
The Terps' five game shutout streak was a credit to the whole roster, but the starters were in the spotlight the most on Sunday. Dayne St. Clair, Maryland’s junior goalkeeper, finished the NCAA Tournament with 540 minutes of perfect soccer. The netminder’s best friends throughout the past month were the steady back four of Donovan Pines, Chase Gasper, Johannes Bergmann, and Ben Di Rosa, who were all at their best in Santa Barbara as they shut down Indiana on Friday night and then Akron on Sunday.
“We made sure we stayed compact,” Donovan Pines said about the team’s mentality against Akron. “We hoped that would tire them out then we noticed that we could move the ball faster against them. We caught them off guard [with one of those quick passing sequences] on one of the penalties.”
“We have a saying, ‘Be Terrapin tough,’” St. Clair added. “We kept our lines compact. There was a confidence about us that we knew nothing would get past us.”
The young Zips were buzzing at College Cup. Akron thrashed Michigan State 5-1 in the semifinal on Friday, which was only the second time in the past 40 years that a team had scored five goals in a NCAA Division I semifinal. However, the veteran minds of the tested Maryland defense slowed down the Zips on Sunday. Akron finished the game with only two shots on goal.
While the Maryland defense did not put a foot wrong all night, it was the Maryland midfield that controlled Sunday’s game. Eli Crognale and Andrew Samuels were outstanding at cutting out passes and keeping possession for the Terps. Amar Sejdic did his dirty work as well, but he made the decisive moves in the final third.
“This became Amar’s team,” Cirovski said. “On the field, he was the tactical leader. He was the coach. He took pride in the defensive side of the ball. He’s not the fastest guy. In fact, he’s the slowest guy. But he’s got a lot of heart. And he’s got a mind. That will take you a long way.”
Sejdic converted for the spot in the 57th minute for the lone goal of the game. Bergmann drew the penalty kick after getting kicked in the head in the 18-yard box. The Maryland midfielder tucked his shot away for the opening goal.
“When we scored, a switch went on that we knew we could win this game right now,” Pines said. “We bought in for the next five minutes.”
The deficit marked the first time Akron trailed in the NCAA Tournament - the Zips last trailed in the semifinals of their conference tournament. The Zips did not find much success while trailing. Akron did not register a shot on goal in the second half.
St. Clair was only tested in the first half. The Maryland goalkeeper made a terrific stop on Marcel Zajac’s low shot in the opening 20 minutes. Zajac struck it with his off foot and the ball took a strange bounce, but St. Clair did well to cover his near post and used his foot to keep it out of the net. St. Clair’s second save was a routine block on a header from Daniel Strachan, who nodded down a corner kick to hit the target.
Ben Di Rosa shut down the best chance of the second half. The outside back, who made two tremendous blocks on Friday against Indiana, did it again on Sunday with a sliding block in the final 20 minutes.
Maryland had a few chances to really put the game away. Sebastian Elney played a brilliant pass to Matt Di Rosa, who was free on goal. Akron goalkeeper Ben Lundt came off his line and took down Di Rosa in the box.
Sejdic stepped up for his second penalty kick attempt of the game. Lundt redeemed himself with a great save on Sejdic’s second attempt.
The hole only got deeper for Akron when star center back Carlo Ritaccio was sent off via a red card after he was called for a foul on Daniel Reeves, who Sejdic sent in goal. Maryland missed the frame of the net on the free kick, but held the man advantage for the final 10 minutes of the game.
“We pride ourselves on having depth,” Cirovski said. “I have to give a special shoutout to Daniel Reeves. I thought he changed the game for us when he got in the game.”
Akron did not generate much during the last moments, and the Zips were left ruing the half chances of the first half.
“This game was a little more about grit, heart, and pride,” Cirovski said. “This game was going to come down to a few mistakes and how can you capitalize. We have a great team from a defending standpoint. In the second half, you saw the value of our depth.”
After losing 18 players from last year’s Akron team, head coach Jared Embick was more optimistic than pessimistic after the game.
“With 18 new players, it was all about building the foundation for the next run,” Embick said. “We got here, so I have high hopes for next year.”
Maryland had no eyes on the future as the victorious moment was more than enough for the Terps. It’s been 10 years since the last time Maryland coach Cirvoski lifted the hardware. He was over-the-moon with joy carrying the hardware into the media tent after earning the title.
“This year we really set out and took on the hardest schedule we’ve ever had,” Cirovski said about the growth of his team. “I wanted to harden this team. In all of the year’s that we’ve won championship, we’ve lost a game or two over the first weekends. It’s a good formula. I think I’m going to stick with it.”
He’ll have eight months to enjoy this win before he starts up another difficult opening weekend for his 2019 Terps.
College Cup All Tournament Team (voted on by media): Patrick Nielsen (Michigan State), Justin Rennicks (Indiana), Andrew Gutman (Indiana), Ben Lundt (Akron), Abdi Mohammed (Akron), Skye Harter (Akron), Eli Crognale (Maryland), Donovan Pines (Maryland), Ben Di Rosa (Maryland), Dayne St. Clair (Maryland), Amar Sejdic (Maryland)
Most Outstanding Player (Defense): Ben Lundt (Akron)
Most Outstanding Player (Offense): Amar Sejdic (Maryland)