With a 3-1 loss at home on Saturday to 17th-ranked Maryland, the 4th-ranked Clemson men’s soccer team suffered its first setback of the season after reeling off six consecutive wins.
What might not be inferred from such a decisive-sounding score-line is that the Tigers played hard and well, and that a few defensive miscues – two of which resulted in penalty-kicks – played into the hands of a strong and opportunistic opponent.
“We switched off a couple of times and they took advantage of it,” said Clemson coach Mike Noonan. “The better-playing team doesn’t always win the game. They’re very explosive up-front, and we made a couple of mistakes, and they took advantage of them. But I was proud of the way the guys played. They fought back, and played hard, and played very well.”
Despite a slow first twenty-minutes of the match, the Tigers began to piece together some credible scoring chances, but fell behind in the 36th-minute when Maryland’s Jake Pace attempted to latch-on to a deep ball dropped-in at the edge of the six-yard box on the left, and Maryland was awarded a penalty-kick after Pace was clipped down by Clemson’s Phanuel Kavita.
Patrick Mullins blasted his left-footed spot-kick past Clemson Keeper Chris Glodack, and into the upper right corner of the net. Notably, that was the first goal that the Tigers had conceded in just over 442 minutes of play.
Regrouping at halftime, the Tigers came out strong to begin the second-half and began connecting passes and exerting pressure. The reward was the equalizer in the 47th-minute.
In the middle just inside the eighteen, Clemson’s Thomas McNamara played short to Austen Burnikel who slipped the ball through to Ara Amirkhanian at the edge of the six-yard box. Lunging off his line, Terrapin keeper Zack Steffen couldn’t quite get down to prevent Amirkhanian’s sliding shot from finding the net.
Unfortunately, and just as it seemed that Clemson might take control of the match, Maryland had an almost immediate reply. Exploiting some loose Clemson marking, Sunny Jane found space just outside the area on the left and curled the ball into the path of Schillo Tshuma, who was unattended on a run down the center. Tshuma’s free 50th-minute header was netted from close-range and over Glodack’s left shoulder.
“We had a good start to the half, especially with the early goal, and it’s important to score the second goal in games like this, and we were able to get it,” said McNamara. “But they were able to get the third one, which changes the game back in their favor.”
After weathering several Clemson bids for a second equalizer (including a no-call take-down of McNamara in the box), Maryland salted the game away in the 83rd-minute with another penalty-kick conversion by Mullins. That resulted from Mullins closing on a direct ball played into the left side of the box, and being bowled over by Glodack after the Tiger keeper charged out from the near post to collect or smother, but hesitated, and then recommitted too late to his first intention.
In the postgame huddle, Noonan offered his team an incisive verdict on the lapses that compromised what was otherwise an unbending defensive performance.
“Here’s what I told them,” said Noonan: “Ninety-nine percent concentration for a hundred percent failure. We concentrated ninety-nine percent of the time tonight, and then switched-off two or three times, and we paid for it. That’s the ACC champions they’re playing. That’s a good side, and they’re going to take advantage of those things.”
Clemson now stands at 6-1 on the season, and 2-1 in the ACC, while Maryland improved to 2-2-2 overall, and 2-0-1 in the league. Though the Tigers enjoyed a 12-10 edge in shots, and a 10-5 advantage in corner kicks, Noonan felt that the Tigers’ inability to put their shots on-frame was their most critical failing.
“In the final analysis our play in front of the goal needs to be better, because we didn’t get shots on-target,” he said. “That was the big issue for us. Yes, we conceded some goals, and made some mistakes, but if we had gotten our shots on-target, we would have been in a lot better shape.
“We’re still in a learning process, and this is a good learning lesson. You learn more from losing than you do from winning. We’ve had a good run, and we’ll look at the film, get back to work, and hopefully get back to our winning ways.”