CARY, N.C. — Jason Garey and the Maryland soccer team earned a trip to the national title game that was four years in the making.
Buoyed by a raucous contingent that turned SAS Soccer Stadium into a partisan venue, Garey scored twice in a 15-second span early in the second half as the top-seeded Terrapins crushed Southern Methodist 4-1 in the College Cup before 8,645.
Maryland (18-4-2), playing in the semifinals for the fourth straight season and the fifth time in eight years, reached its first title game since 1968. The Terps will meet second-seeded New Mexico (18-1-3), which defeated Clemson 2-1 in the second semifinal.
“The last three years we’ve been pretty disappointed at this moment, packing up the bus to go home,” said Garey, who was named a Hermann Trophy finalist and a first-team All-American earlier in the day. “It feels good to be able to stay here and play on Sunday.”
After struggling in recent weeks with a hip flexor that sapped him of his speed, Garey broke out of a tournament-long scoring slump against the Mustangs (14-6-3). Garey trained throughout the week for the first time in the postseason, and he looked healthy as he took four shots in the first half and ground down the SMU defense.
Maryland dominated the first half but took the lead only after freshman Graham Zusi delivered an 8-yard dart in the 44th minute. The confident Terps knew a more substantial outburst was possible, and there was little doubt Garey would be in the middle of it.
“He was the last guy coming out of the locker room, and I thought he was dangerous in the first half,” Maryland coach Sasho Cirovski said. “I said, ‘You’re due, kid, you’re due,’ and he looked up and smiled and said, ‘I know.’ It ended up being prophetic.”
The Terps emerged from the break more aggressive than usual and doubled their lead less than two minutes later. Robbie Rogers sent a pass from the left side to A.J. Godbolt, who headed it toward the middle. Garey was perched near the goalmouth and finished the opportunity for his first goal of the tournament.
He didn’t wait long for his second. Shortly after the restart, Maryland midfielder Maurice Edu took possession and sent a pass toward the SMU goal. Garey sprinted between defenders Mynor Gonzalez and Ryan Mirsky and fired a shot into the left corner from five yards out for his 22nd goal of the year.
The 15 seconds between goals was the shortest in College Cup history.
“That’s vintage Jason Garey,” said Cirovski, whose team has scored a program-record 65 times this season. “He’s a lethal goal-scorer. He was dangerous the whole first half. … You just can’t keep a good man down.”
The Mustangs, who won three road games to reach the semifinals, could do little to shut down the Terps, and the frustration was evident when Dario Saintus tripped Edu in the box in the 49th minute. Midfielder Stephen King then sent a penalty kick past keeper Matt Wideman (three saves) to put Maryland ahead 4-0.
Maryland fans, notably a group of more than 100 students who bused in from College Park yesterday, were perched behind Wideman throughout the second half. They replicated the rowdy atmosphere the Terps are used to at Ludwig Field, transforming Cary into a virtual home away from home for Maryland.
“You could hear all the Maryland fans, and I’m not quite sure that we were used to that,” Wideman said. “The second half was much harder. I could barely talk to my defense.”
SMU scored its only goal in the 55th minute when Paulo da Silva’s shot caromed off defender David Glaudemans and then keeper Chris Seitz (five saves) before settling in the goal.
The Terps weren’t seriously challenged in the final third, finishing off a dominant performance to earn a much-overdue title game trip. For a team constituted almost entirely of players who have known nothing but ending a season with a semifinal loss, the victory produced as much relief as joy.
“It was an unbelievable feeling,” Godbolt said. “We’ve been talking all year about giving ourselves a chance to win. We’re 48 hours away from getting that chance.”