With less than 10 minutes to play in Loyola's NCAA men's soccer tournament game against Liberty, the Flames had an opportunity from point-blank range to finally score, but Greyhounds goalie Milos Kocic blocked what appeared to be a sure goal.
The save killed any momentum Liberty had built Saturday, and the Greyhounds advanced to the second round of the tournament for the first time since 2001, when they beat Maryland, 1-0, in double overtime.
Kocic has regularly made such plays this season, ranking third in the nation in goals-against average and third in saves percentage.
Loyola plays at Maryland at 5 p.m. today in the second round of the tournament, and one of the keys for the Greyhounds will be how well their defense can stand up against the powerful Terrapins offense. Kocic is confident Loyola matches up well with Maryland and has been looking forward to a rematch since the Terrapins beat the Greyhounds, 1-0, in the 2006 regular season.
"We were so happy when we got Maryland, because we want to compete with them," Kocic said. "We are ready. All of us are 100 percent ready. We are not scared of them. We can't wait to play them."
Kocic, a native of Serbia, transferred to Loyola last year from St. John's after he redshirted his freshman year for the Red Storm. He was second on the depth chart and sought more of an opportunity to play. The adjustment to St. John's and living in New York City was also difficult for Kocic. Even though he had a full scholarship to play soccer, he had to work two jobs to pay for his expenses. "I was constantly working," he said.
Kocic talked with former Greyhounds midfielder Rade Kokovic, a fellow Serb, about transferring to Loyola. He made the move, and, after appearing in two complete games last season, including the 1-0 loss to Maryland, Kocic has developed into one of the Greyhounds' leaders.
"He is a mature young man in a lot of respects," said Loyola coach Mark Mettrick, this year's Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Coach of the Year. "We are a young team, and I think he has a very good personality. He wants to win, and he has the respect of his teammates. One of the keys with having Milos on the field is he helps organize the back line. It is like having a 12th man."
The Greyhounds (19-3) have 16 shutouts in 22 games this season, but Maryland will be their toughest test. The Terps (10-5-4), who received a first-round bye in the tournament for the sixth consecutive year, are led by midfielder Stephen King, who led the Atlantic Coast Conference in assists.
Maryland is 25-8-6 against Loyola, but the Greyhounds won the biggest match between the schools, beating the Terps in the second round in 2001 before losing to Saint Louis, 3-0.
"Maryland is very tough at home," Mettrick said. "They have created a really hostile environment at home. They are very fast and work very hard. They are tournament-savvy, and they expect to win."
The key for Loyola will be shutting down the Terps' attack, then taking advantage of offensive opportunities. The performance of Kocic and defenders Janson Blake, Camilo Correa, Josh Taylor (Archbishop Curley) and Tennant McVea has taken some of the pressure off the forwards.
"We have so much confidence that we can go forward and know that the job is getting done in the back," Loyola forward Phil Bannister said. "They wrap things up back there. We can close games out if we can get that one goal."