A top-ranked, top-seeded, undefeated soccer team with 15 consecutive victories led by three goals with about 20 minutes left at home Sunday against a typically low-scoring opponent ... and lost.
“This one is hard to process,” Terrapins Coach Sasho Cirovski said, his frozen gaze the result of more than the biting cold at Ludwig Field. “It’s almost too unimaginable, too unbelievable to see it unfold before your own eyes. We knew this was a game, with the wind swirling, that there could be a lot of crazy things happen, but I didn’t imagine anything this crazy.”
The Terrapins (18-1-2) led the NCAA tournament second-round match, 4-1, before conceding two goals in a 36-second span of the 70th minute, then the equalizer in the 75th, then the tiebreaker in the 82nd on a corner kick that looped over the goalkeeper’s head and caromed in off the back post.
And with that, one of the most astonishing collapses in soccer, at any level, was complete.
Poised for its first national trophy in eight years, the Big Ten regular season and tournament champions were done after one game in NCAA competition. They had not lost in regulation since October 2015 and, with Amar Sejdic scoring twice and Gordon Wild and Eryk Williamson notching one apiece, the Terrapins seemed on their way to the round of 16.
But in the swirl of wind and cold, the Friars (14-6-0) staged an epic, improbable comeback. They had scored only 24 goals all season, three in a match just once. Maryland hadn’t allowed five or more in a game since Cirovski’s first season, in 1993.
“I would’ve bet my own life my team wouldn’t give up five goals at home,” he said. “I’m glad I didn’t.”
The Providence goals were not tap-ins, either. Julian Gressel scored his second of the game with an angled, near-post rocket. Nick Sailor used the outside of his foot to send a 25-yard shot bending into the far top corner. Steve Kilday blasted a one-timer through traffic from 23 yards.
And Joao Serrano hooked the corner kick over Cody Niedermeier for an “Olimpico” — a goal directly off a corner kick.
The last three were by players who hadn’t previously scored this year.
“After the second goal, everything was calm,” Sejdic said. “But after the third goal, it was hard to believe. . . . I thought we had the control of the game. Everyone could kind of feel the momentum change.”
Despite their unbeaten record, the Terrapins had been living dangerously all autumn: nine consecutive one-goal victories and six overtime triumphs overall. The Friars were dangerous in the first half and, even after falling behind 2-1 at halftime and 4-1 nine minutes into the second half, they kept their heads up and feet flying.
“We knew if we get a goal,” Gressel said, “maybe they start to shake a little bit.”
Cirovski said his team would have benefited from losing in the regular season.
“I’ve often said during the year I wish we would lose one just so we can feel the hurt and understand how to close out some of these games,” he said. “But when you’re in it, you never want to lose one. Unfortunately now we’re feeling that pain, but there’s nothing we can do about it.”
Everything was flowing Maryland’s way: Wild scored on a free kick from 30-plus yards and, after Gressel’s first goal, Sejdic’s 40-yard free kick got caught in the wind and dipped over goalkeeper Colin Miller. Sejdic scored on an 18-yard volley in the 51st minute and Williamson kissed in a 10-yard shot off the post.
“We had a remarkable regular season and a great [Big Ten] tournament,” Wild said, “but no one expected this outcome.”