AU men’s soccer had a major moral victory Sunday, tying the Maryland Terrapins, last year’s national champions, 1-1.
The Eagles are one of the Patriot League’s better programs, but Maryland is among the elite. Their difference in records shows just how far apart the teams were last year, with AU and Maryland finishing their seasons 9-7-3 and 23-3-0, respectively. In the end, it was the Eagles’ defense and keeper play that allowed them to stay in the game.
Maryland threatened AU right from the start, pressuring sophomore goalkeeper Matt Makowski and the AU defense. Makowski kept his team in the game however, stopping lasers from Maryland’s Matt Kassel and Cooper Bryant.
After some near-misses, the Terrapins broke through at 15 minutes, with a goal by sophomore forward Casey Townsend. The goal, assisted by senior Drew Yates, beat Makowski to his left. It was the only blemish for last year’s Patriot League rookie of the year. He rebounded and shut out the Terps the rest of the game.
“I think he’s outstanding,” Coach Todd West said of Makowski. “He’s a very hardworking kid.”
AU settled down after the goal and started to play a crisp offensive game. AU junior Mike Worden had a great opportunity to knot up the game on a pass from Junior Daniel Shannon, but Maryland keeper Zac MacMath was able to make the save. After their opportunity it became clear that the offense was starting to jell.
“I told the team after the first 15 minutes we had good, maybe even better chances than Maryland,” Coach West said. “It just took us 15 minutes to kind of settle down.”
Going into the second half, AU looked much improved over last year. Several AU players said the team has never looked this good against Maryland.
“Last year we were on our heels, and they took it to us fast,” junior midfielder Nick Kapus, said.
The two teams exchanged shots to begin the second half, and a serious threat was not posed until minute 71, when Maryland’s Billy Cortes sent his shot wide. Maryland threatened again, but Makowski came through to make a momentum-changing save off a header.
Two minutes later, in minute 73, American broke through and tied the game at one on a goal by Kapus. The goal beat Maryland’s substitute keeper to his left, setting off a mass celebration by the AU players and fans at Reeves Field. The Eagles were now deadlocked with the team that experts had tabbed as the best in the country in the preseason poll.
Makowski capped his performance with two saves in the final eight minutes, and American earned a tie with Maryland. It is an impressive victory, considering the Terps finished last season on a 16-game winning streak.
“We understand it’s preseason, but they’re the defending national champions,” red-shirt senior Cooper Bryant said. “We’re very happy with this first game.”
Expectations are high this year for the Eagles, as the coaches and sports information directors of the league predict them to finish second in the Patriot League. If they are to live up to that prediction, they will have to continue with the strong defense they demonstrated in this game.