COLLEGE PARK, Md. -
After falling in dramatic fashion in the third round the past two seasons, the Maryland men's soccer team proved the third time's the charm Saturday afternoon, defeating California, 2-1, at Ludwig Field to advance to the NCAA Elite Eight.
Maryland (20-3-0) had a pair of scoring chances before notching its first score. Jason Herrick tapped a ball to Casey Townsend who made a nice turn and forwarded the pass to Jeremy Hall coming down the pipe, but Hall's strike went high of the goal. Three minutes later around the 12-minute mark, Townsend made another fantastic turn in the box and this time took the shot himself only to be saved by Cal keeper Stefan Frei up the middle.
The Terps got on the board at 18:41 when Graham Zusi lifted a ball on a set piece off a corner to Omar Gonzalez who headed the ball home for a 1-0 Maryland lead. It is the junior defender's fifth goal of the year and his first score since Oct. 14 against Lehigh. It was the second game in a row that the Terps headed into the half holding the lead.
California (12-4-5) struck first with a pair of shots out of the locker room in the second half, but the Maryland defense held steadfast and kept the Bears scoreless while the offense, courtesy of Hall, gave Maryland a two-goal cushion with his team-leading 14th goal of the year at 52:26. The midfielder from Tampa, Fla., lofted a ball that deflected off the Cal backline and above Frei in the upper left corner.
The Golden Bears began to find their rhythm midway through the second half. After a tremendous Frei save off a Herrick shot, the Bears finally capitalized at 67:37 when Andrew Wiedeman flicked a ball over Maryland keeper Zac MacMath into the back of the net. It is the first goal the Maryland defense and MacMath has surrendered in the past four games.
As tension began to rise, Wiedeman nearly scored the equalizer two minutes later after getting some space in the middle of the box and firing a rocket at goal, but MacMath made an incredible sliding save to preserve the Terrapin lead. Cal continued to apply offensive pressure until the whistle blew and came dangerously close to scoring again when Pat Marion fired a shot that went just wide of the post with 1:37 remaining.
The win ties a Maryland program-best of 20 for the year and provided redemption for the Terps who fell to Cal, 1-0, in late August. Maryland has been victorious in 13 consecutive matches. MacMath has now won 16-straight contests since that loss and made four saves against the Bears Saturday. Maryland returns to the Elite Eight for the first time since 2005 when the squad won the national championship. The Terps fell to Notre Dame and Bradley in the third round in double overtime at Ludwig Field in 2006 and 2007, respectively.
"It feels good to get past this one," head coach Sasho Cirovski said. "The last two years at this stage we had some heartbreaking losses and I think you saw a team that is matured, that is hungry, and that found a way to win this game."
The Terps will play host to Creighton next Saturday at Ludwig Field. Game time is slated for 1 p.m.