Northwestern’s (8-8-2, 3-4-2 B1G) season came to an end against Maryland (10-6-2, 4-3-2 B1G) after the visitors scored a decisive penalty in Sunday’s quarterfinal matchup between the fourth and fifth seeds in the conference. Coach Lenahan’s men tried valorously for an equalizer in the late stages, but keeper Miha Miskovic’s glancing header failed to find either a leg or the back of the net to seal the match.
Northwestern took control during the first half, forcing Maryland into multiple poor passes and wavering bouts of play. Neither squad had any big chances, but both Vicente Castro and Matt Moderwell combining for two shots apiece on target. Jayson Cyrus and Julian Zighelboim at outside back worked tirelessly to harangue Maryland’s speedy wingers, while Mattias Tomasino provided some heady challenges to stall Terrapin attacks forward.
Maryland regrouped during the second period, however, and dominated the proceedings from then on out. Northwestern rarely ventured into opposing territory as the Terrapins found their footing and held on. Maryland’s higher press bothered the Wildcats midfield into giveaways and rendered them unable to build out of the back.
“They started pressing us really high, and we couldn’t escape, we couldn get out,” said Lenahan. “[The] couple times we did, we weren't able to connect. We had a couple chances, but clearly the first half was our game the second half was there game.”
Maryland eventually capitalized through a penalty. The pivotal play of the match, with around 20 minutes left, sealed the away side the win. Capitalizing on slow Wildcat defending, Nick Richardson made a play for the ball at the corner of the box but was intercepted by Cyrus. The Northwestern defender caught Richardson square with his leg, and the referee pointed to the spot. Eli Crognale calmly dispatched the penalty, shooting to strong and high up for a diving Miskovic to get a glove on it.
Maryland tried to ride out the match, but Northwestern would not be deterred. The ‘Cats pushed until the final whistle, as Mattias Tomasino’s corner found Miskovic, but the keeper’s header was not on target. Terrapin supporters and players shouted with jubilation at the final whistle, but the ‘Cats could only hang their heads after dropping a winnable contest against last year’s national champion.
“It was going to come down to one play and it did,” said Lenahan. “They made the play, and that's why they are the defending national champions.”
Northwestern enters the offseason without stalwarts such as Tomasino, Matt Moderwell, and Mac Mazzola, but the returning talent leaves hope for optimism. That being said, this was an emotionally devastating loss for a Northwestern team trying to return to the top of the conference for the first time since 2011. This loss should not take away from this squad’s triumphs. From beating top 25-caliber teams, crucial overtime victories, and a Big Ten shutout streak to end the season, the ‘Cats can hold their heads high knowing they have planted the seeds for future success. Northwestern fans should look forward to next fall, where the ‘Cats will return to try and improve on an undeniably successful season.