There was little crisp about Maryland’s opening game in the NCAA tournament.
There was also little to complain about a round of 32 triumph.
Midfielder Dan Metzger scored off a free kick with less than a minute remaining as the second-seeded Terrapins shook off a slow start Sunday and rallied past Brown 2-1 at Ludwig Field.
“We just looked a little antsy at the beginning,” coach Sasho Cirovski said. “When you’re such a high seed, the first game or two are typically the biggest challenge, both mentally and physically in many ways. But this was a game that demanded us to put a little more muscle out there. … We know we have the versatility to adapt and adjust to different styles. Today, some of the things we did paid off.”
Cirovski knows all too well the difficulties of making a deep run in the postseason. He’s in his 20th year at Maryland and his 18th NCAA tournament with the Terps. In all but one of those appearances, Maryland won its first game.
There was doubt almost from start to finish whether this would be an exception for the Terps (18-1-2).
Brown (13-3-3) was not frazzled by either Maryland’s reputation or talent and outplayed the Terps in the early going. The Bears’ Bobby Belair scored off a corner kick in the 17th minute to apply some pressure to Maryland.
The Terps responded with Patrick Mullins’ 30-yard strike in the 44th minute, but also adjusted their lineup to adapt Brown’s style. Metzger moved to the outside, where he was used at times earlier in the season, with Helge Leikvang playing 69 minutes off the bench.
It proved a crucial choice in the end, when Leikvang arcing kick led to a scrum at the goalmouth, with Metzger depositing it for his first goal since Aug. 31 to secure a round of 16 date with unseeded Coastal Carolina on Sunday.
“I just had a feeling it was going to get into that spot. I got a foot on it at the end,” Metzger said. “I think London [Woodberry] claims that he hit it in, but I’m pretty sure I got the last touch.”
It was a good problem, however joking it was, to have. Maryland had moved along, content to play another week even if it wasn’t at its best.
The Terps might not have the same luxury moving forward. Then again, they probably don’t plan to need it, either.
“We knew this was going to be a tough one, and we met the challenge,” Cirovski said. “It wasn’t the prettiest soccer, but at this point your survive, you advance and we’ll have plenty of time to play our pretty soccer.”
—- Patrick Stevens