COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Despite an outstanding effort on the pitch tonight, the Lehigh men’s soccer team was edged by the top-ranked Maryland Terrapins, 2-1. After Lehigh fell behind 1-0 in the first half, junior James Meyerkord’s second goal of the season evened the score as the Mountain Hawks took the No. 1 Terrapins to the brink of overtime before a goal with under three minutes sealed a win for Maryland. Lehigh will now finish the season with two Patriot League matches that will help determine the Patriot League Tournament field.
"We played the best team in the country tonight and I was proud of how we executed the game plan and made it very difficult for Maryland for the better part of 88 minutes," said head coach Dean Koski. "We’re moving in the right direction and it was a good midweek game for us before American."
Lehigh’s defense withstood the offensive pressure of the nation’s top team and displayed its stingy defense, as junior Ciaran Nugent and senior Taylor Sulmonetti combined for six saves on the night, while just eight of the Terps’ 30 shots were directed at the Lehigh net.
"Ciaran did a great job in the first half to make sure we got off still tight with them and I thought he helped manage us defensively," said Koski. "Taylor came in and played great by making some big saves for us and organizing our defense, so together they did a great job."
Just 1:30 in, junior Ciaran Nugent made one of his two first-half saves. Then about three minutes later, the Mountain Hawks got their first scoring opportunity of the first half, as sophomore Brian Suchoski fired a low shot that sailed just wide of the left post.
The Terrapins continued to pressure, as a shot in the ninth minute was cleared off the goal line by freshman Kyle Chin, forcing Maryland’s first corner kick of the evening. The Terps did capitalize in the 12th minute off a succession of nifty passes. Alex Shinsky fed Patrick Mullins in the middle, who found the right side of the net to make it 1-0.
Maryland continued to pressure, but Nugent and the Lehigh defense stood tall, clearing any attempts out of the zone to keep the deficit at one goal. The Mountain Hawks created their first corner in the 31st minute, but they were unable to convert and, as the horn sounded, entered halftime within a single goal of the nation’s top-ranked team.
Lehigh fought off four Terrapins’ shots early in the second half, and then converted on a golden opportunity to tie the score at one goal apiece in the 59th minute when Meyerkord made a steal near midfield and went in down the left side. He then proceeded to beat Terps’ goalkeeper Jordan Tatum inside the right post for his second goal of the season.
"I think our guys did a good job of absorbing the pressure," said Koski. "We tried to force them outside where we thought they wouldn’t be as strong as they are very dynamic coming forward and we tried to weather that and look to counter attack. The one time we had a really good opportunity to counterattack, we scored."
Lehigh keeper Taylor Sulmonetti, who entered in the second half, was stellar throughout, including one sequence in the 78th minute when he made a pair of spectacular saves. The Mountain Hawks continued to pressure and nearly took a 2-1 lead in the 83rd minute when a Meyerkord shot hit the post before caroming out of harm’s way.
Maryland then attacked and eventually took the lead at the 87:21 mark off a corner kick following a sequence of shots. The Terps finally capitalized on their third chance when Mullins scored his second of the game, which proved to be the difference.
"Now we’ve got to get a good scout going and ultimately make sure we’re healthy and have a good game plan going into American," said Koski. "That’s certainly going to be a challenging game."
After the impressive effort put forth tonight, Lehigh will now set its sights on American which will be welcomed into Ulrich Sports Complex at 7 p.m. on Saturday night for a crucial Patriot League tilt.