Friday night possessed the potential to be remembered as an opportunity for the Maryland soccer program to collect a nationally televised victory in a rematch of last year’s national title game.
There was the chance the Terrapins would attract a school-record crowd at Ludwig Field.
And it happened.
Yet the way it unfolded —- that could be part of the program’s fabric even longer.
Senior defender Kevin Tangney, whose appearance on both of Maryland’s national championship teams this decade was sandwiched around a pair of knee injuries that cost him all of 2006 and 2007, floated a header past North Carolina keeper Brooks Haggerty to lift No. 4 Maryland to a 1-0 defeat of No. 2 North Carolina before 6,946.
“That was one of the best moments in my 17 years not because we won the game against a great opponent, but in the player that found a way to get the game-winning goal in all that he’s been through,” coach Sasho Cirovski said. “I rarely talk about a single player after a game, but you get a gulp in your throat when he scored that goal and had that celebration because of what that kid has been through.”
Zac MacMath made two saves for the Terps (5-1-1, 2-0-1), who faced the possibility of struggling early in the season after an exodus of talent but will instead leave September atop the ACC.
So many of the early questions started on a revamped back line, where Tangney began as the veteran presence. It’s held up, with Tangney asserting himself as Maryland’s latest quality center back.
He was at the center of the night’s two crucial plays. In the 51st minute, he was called for a foul in the box, but forward Billy Schuler‘s penalty kick veered wide right even as MacMath dove in the wrong direction.
The Tar Heels (5-1-1, 2-1) had the better of play for much of the second half, but the Terps demonstrated a spark in closing moments. After a scoring opportunity sputtered in the 88th minute, MacMath launched a ball to the other end a Carolina defender headed before the 6-foot-2 Tangney nudged it over Haggerty, who crept out from the goalmouth to try to corral the loose ball.
“I just kind of ran down and saw there was a deflection,” Tangney said of the goal with 1:55 left. “[It was] 50-50 and I knew the goalie was going to come out a little bit. I was hoping to just get my head on it and kind of put it right by him.”
It was only the second goal of Tangney’s career —- and it wasn’t too long ago it seemed he might never score that many as a Terp.
He missed the 2006 season with an ACL tear suffered on an overseas tour. Then, days before preseason camp commenced in 2007, he suffered another ACL tear.
“I’m not minimizing death, but he was on suicide watch. …,” Cirovski said “It was devastating. The kid’s life was soccer. His mom went to school here. You saw him kiss the badge. What this program means to him is everything. And he’s been such an important player for us even though he hasn’t been able to transfer the minutes on there.”
Now it has, and the Terps are suddenly rolling earlier than expected. The tinkering Cirovski expected to do hasn’t happened in games. The trying moments a revamped outfit were minimized in the season’s first three weeks.
Instead of frustration, Maryland was left to celebrate its latest memorable moment —- this one authored by someone who’s been around for quite a few in his career.
“It’s a great feeling,” Tangney said. “I try not to get too caught up in it because there’s always the next game, but to get a goal like that in the final [moments] against UNC on TV, and just the whole atmosphere is really rewarding.”
Upending the nation’s No. 2 team is its own reward. Finally uncorking the excitement of an almost overflow crowd only enhances the image of Cirovski’s program as the sport’s standard bearer.
But ultimately, this night will be remembered as a microcosm of an oft-trying career that still has a chance to emerge the way Tangney dreamed it one day would.
“He’s made of the best stuff on earth,” Cirovski said. “When he put the ball in the back of the net, you knew there something of a gift back for all the stuff he’s been through. It’s one of those moments where you go beyond what’s going on here. You say ‘That’s special.’”
—- Patrick Stevens