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Maryland junior forward Eric Matzelevich celebrates after scoring against Iona in an NCAA first-round game Nov. 21, 2019 in College Park. (Courtesy of Maryland Athletics)
Maryland junior forward Eric Matzelevich celebrates after scoring against Iona in an NCAA first-round game Nov. 21, 2019 in College Park. (Courtesy of Maryland Athletics)

Maryland junior forward Eric Matzelevich didn’t leave any doubt in the second half of the Terps’ NCAA men’s soccer tournament opener Thursday night against Iona at Ludwig Field.

He found open space and time to set up his right foot from 25 yards, unleashing a heavy shot that quickly found the top corner.

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The goal, coming with 25 minutes to play, was the defining moment of a solid playoff opener for Maryland, providing the defending national champions a two-goal cushion on their way to a 4-0 win over the visiting Gaels.

“I’d like to say that I wanted to go for that corner," Matzelevich said. "But you kind of pick the ball, and then I heard Malcolm [Johnston] screaming for the ball on the left and was thinking about playing [it to him], but saw the opportunity, took the shot, and it turned out well.”

Maryland, making its 19th straight tournament appearance under coach Sasho Cirovski, improved to 11-7-2 and will face No. 4 seed Wake Forest (13-4-2) at 5 p.m. on Sunday in the second round in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

The Terps picked up where they left off last year with another clean sheet. They captured the 2018 championship with five shutouts, blanking the opposition for a total of 450 minutes. Maryland has not allowed a goal in an NCAA tournament game since losing, 5-4, to Providence in the second round on Nov. 20, 2016.

“We got off to a little bit of a rusty start as expected, but I thought we grew into the game and certainly were the worthy winners,” Cirovski said. “I thought our defensive pressure got better and better and we made it very difficult for Iona to get into rhythm. I thought our guys had a great response from our last match. You could see we had our legs, we had the energy and the quality to put a lot of pressure on them, and I’m delighted to get a shutout and delighted to get the result and move on in the tournament.”

Maryland sophomore forward Justin Gielen, left, celebrates his goal against Iona in an NCAA first-round game Nov. 21, 2019 in College Park. (Courtesy of Maryland Athletics)
Maryland sophomore forward Justin Gielen, left, celebrates his goal against Iona in an NCAA first-round game Nov. 21, 2019 in College Park. (Courtesy of Maryland Athletics)

As Thursday’s game wore on, it became more and more apparent that the Terps were the defending champions and that Iona (14-6-1) was making its first tournament appearance.

Sophomore forward Justin Gielen provided the Terps with a 1-0 lead in the first half, with Johnston making it 3-0 just minutes after Matzelevich scored. Luke Brown closed out the scoring with a late penalty kick.

The Terps had a humming offense at the end of the regular season, averaging two goals per game in their last five. But things stalled in the Big Ten tournament as they only mustered a penalty kick to get past Northwestern, 1-0, before getting blanked by Indiana, 1-0, in overtime in the semifinals.

The offense roared back to life Thursday.

The first half was a mixed bag for the Terps, but after a ragged start, they settled in to take hold of the game.

Most importantly, they had the only breakthrough of the half, coming in the 20th minute when Gielen headed home a ball served in from Matt Di Rosa for the 1-0 advantage.

The goal, Gielen’s fourth of the season, came seconds after freshman forward Justin Harris (River Hill) won the left side and had a low shot turned away by Iona goalie Giuliano Santucci.

The Terps, who had an 8-2 advantage in shots in the half, had an ideal opportunity to tack on a second goal in the final seconds with Gielen once again providing the threat.

His first chance from 12 yards was turned away by Santucci with 25 seconds to play, and on the ensuing corner, he just missed connecting on Eli Crognale’s pass, as his header at the far post was again handled by the Iona goalie.

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The visiting Gaels, who won the early midfield battles, did not get a shot on goal in the first half.

Maryland sophomore center Brett St. Martin (Mount Saint Joseph) left the game early in the first half with a facial injury suffered after recording the game’s first shot on goal, colliding with an Iona defender on a header from a corner kick.

NCAA second round

Maryland@No. 4 seed Wake Forest

Sunday, 5 p.m.

Video: ACC Network Extra

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