- The Washington Times - Friday, December 12, 2003

COLUMBUS, Ohio — The Maryland men’s soccer team’s third visit to the College Cup under Sasho Cirovski came to an all too familiar conclusion.

St. John’s Sebastian Alvarado-Ralph converted a penalty kick in the first half, and the sixth-seeded Red Storm held off the relentless second-seeded Terrapins 1-0 yesterday to gain the NCAA tournament final at frigid Columbus Crew Stadium. St. John’s (17-5-3) will face Indiana in tomorrow’s title game.

Maryland (20-3-1), meanwhile, was left to ponder its third defeat in the semifinals in the last six years.

“It’s a gutted, empty feeling,” Cirovski said. “You’re at a loss for words. It’s just a sad story.”

Forward Ashley Kozicki gave St. John’s a spark just after coming off the bench when he raced into the box in the 35th minute. Maryland keeper Noah Palmer was caught out of position and charged out to cut off Kozicki’s scoring opportunity. Instead, he collided with the Red Storm freshman near the edge of the box and was issued a yellow card.

“It was a 50-50 ball,” Palmer said. “It was at the top of the box, and I got there a little late.”

Alvarado-Ralph converted the penalty kick, firing a shot into the upper right corner as Palmer dived in the opposite direction.

It was the latest in a seemingly endless series of painful postseason departures for the Terps. The program suffered a loss to St. John’s in the first round of the 1999 tournament on a counterattack goal in the final two minutes and dropped an overtime game in the second round two years later to Loyola.

Yet abrupt exits in the program’s last three semifinal appearances continue to sting the most.

In 1998, the Terps lost 1-0 after Stanford scored on a goalmouth scrum and Maryland had a goal taken away on a foul. A year ago, UCLA’s penalty kick in the last 10 minutes ended the Terps’ title hopes.

But defeat was never more agonizing than yesterday for a program that brought back all but one player from last year’s final four team. The Terps dictated the pace of the game, outshot St. John’s 25-9 and didn’t allow a serious scoring opportunity in the second half, but could never penetrate keeper Bill Gaudette (nine saves) and the efficient Red Storm defense.

“We just haven’t gotten any breaks,” Cirovski said. “If ever there was a group of players that deserves a break in a big game like a national semifinal, it’s this group.”

The Terps had opportunities throughout, especially in the final 15 minutes as they increased their offensive pressure. Jason Garey’s attempt from the top of the box in the 78th minute was wide and, seconds later, Abe Thompson’s header was stopped just shy of the goal by Gaudette.

Maryland came close to an equalizer in the final 30 seconds, but Gaudette saved Thompson’s shot from inside the box.

“We had a lot of good chances, but we just couldn’t finish,” Garey said. “It wasn’t our day to score.”

St. John’s permitted Maryland few opportunities to capitalize on set pieces, which led to three goals in the Terps’ quarterfinal defeat of Saint Louis. Maryland had only two corner kicks and none until the last 10 minutes.

For the first 10 minutes, it seemed a matter of when — and not if — Maryland would score. The Terps were overwhelming, cutting off Red Storm possessions at midfield and quickly creating quality scoring opportunities only to have them stifled by Gaudette.

Garey’s header off Thompson’s volley forced the keeper to make a leaping save to his right in the seventh minute. On their next possession, Scott Buete sent a pass to Thompson on the right wing, but his shot from 10 yards was corralled by Gaudette.

St. John’s didn’t penetrate the Terps’ box until almost nine minutes into the game and didn’t generate any offensive flow until the middle of the half.

However, the Red Storm defense tightened after the early scares and didn’t give up a shot on goal in the last 37 minutes of the half.

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