A gifted 12th-ranked UC Irvine men’s soccer team came to College Park on Sunday evening to play the Terps in NCAA final 16 tournament action. Irvine had defeated North Carolina last week with two seconds remaining in the game to advance to this contest.
The first 20 minutes of the game was played largely in the midfield, as each team seemed to be feeling out the other. A strong effort by Irvine’s Enrique Cardenas with a shot that missed wide by a not-too-narrow margin caused the energy of play to pick up significantly for the latter portion of the first half.
Patrick Mullins would score his 16th goal of the season for UMD with 13:20 remaining in the first half. A creative series of steps by Tsubasa Endoh to beat two defenders took the ball to the right end line, where a low cross found Mullins diving in through a slot to tally the score. The keeper had no chance to prevent it.
At 3:30, a nice Alex Shinsky shot upon a set by Jake Pace was handled by Irvine Keeper Michael Breslin.
Soon after, with 2:00 remaining, a well-struck ball from Irvine’s Cameron Iwasa was deflected over the bar by UMD’s freshman keeper Zach Steffan.
Having been out-shot 6-3 in the first half, the Irvine Anteaters proved they could be a dangerous striking team when successfully pushing numbers forward. Cardenas is clearly their top offensive threat, and his blast (with 32:00 in the game) toward the upper left 90 was skillfully saved with a leaping deflection by Steffan!
The freshman keeper from New Jersey would be called upon again with under 5:00 remaining, stopping a point-blank header by 6’5” Lester Hayes – who played his high school ball at nearby DeMatha.
At 2:00 remaining, the Anteaters found the net, but the goal was disallowed for an obvious off-sides call.
In the end, the single goal from Mullins would be sufficient to send the #5 Terps into the quarterfinals – where they will travel to California to meet the #4-ranked Golden Bears (who defeated the Terps on September 1st, 3-2 in overtime. The Terps now have a cumulative record of 15-3-5.
Maryland played a more physical game than did the UC Irvine team – who likely feel a bit on the short end of fouls called, even though the Terps had 17 against them while the Anteaters had 13. UMD led in shots 10-9, and with saves 5-2.
The star of this game for Maryland was keeper Zach Steffan, who made four outstanding stops – being tested more severely than his counterpart at the opposite end of the field.