Maryland men fall 3-1 to U-23 El Salvador team vying for Olympic berth
By Quinn Casteel
Germantown, Md. – The Maryland men’s soccer team got a taste of what it feels like to play against world-class talent on Sunday afternoon, as the Terrapins lost 3-1 to the El Salvador Under-23 National Team in front of a sellout crowd at the Maryland SoccerPlex.
Some 4,000 passionate Salvadoran fans packed the complex’s Championship Stadium, giving UMD head coach Sasho Cirovski and his team plenty of motivation for the friendly match.
“This game had the feel, potentially of a College Cup game or an ACC Championship game where there’s a lot at stake,” said Cirovski, currently in his 19th year with the Terps program. “The quality and the mental and physical aspects were all there.”
The Terps struck first in the opening half, scoring the first goal of the afternoon on a shot off the foot of John Stertzer just eight minutes into the game. The junior midfielder snared a deflected shot from fellow midfielder Patrick Mullins directly in front of the El Salvador goal, and was able to walk the ball into the net as goalkeeper Diego Duarte was left out of position trying to stop Mullins’ shot.
The Terps got off to a hot start, controlling the first ten minutes of the match, but eventually El Salvador’s superior talent became apparent. They used quick, long passes to try to catch the Maryland players off guard, and by the half-hour mark they had taken the lead for good.
El Salvador tied things up in the 15th minute on a rocket of a free kick from 30 yards out by Alexander Hernandez, who put enough spin and power on the shot to give UMd goalkeeper Keith Cardona no chance at stopping it as the ball soared into the left upper 90 of the net.
The Salvadorians struck again just 11 minutes later, this time on a two-on-none fast-break as they took control of the match. Jonathan Joya led the breakaway, and once he made it into the box he passed to Jaime Morales who finished the play by craftily spinning a shot off the bottom inside of the right post and into the net.
“Some of our defending was exposed today,” said Cirovski after the match. “So we’re going to watch that and correct it and learn from it.”
UMd had an opportunity to tie the game later in the half, as Mikias Elicha earned a penalty kick just two minutes after entering the game in the 35th minute. However, Stertzer, who scored the Terps first goal, was unable to place a shot past Duarte and the match remained 2-1 at halftime.
El Salvador picked up its third goal eight minutes into the second half after being awarded a penalty kick following a handball call on UMd inside the box. Dustin Garay knocked the PK in for El Salvador to give his team a commanding lead. Several Terrapin players argued against the call for a penalty, but to no avail.
“I was off to the side but it looked like the ball hit his arm,” said sophomore midfielder Jereme Raley. “His arm wasn’t out so I don’t know why he got called for it.”
“They called a handball but I didn’t see any hand extended,” Cirovski added. “But it doesn’t matter, today wasn’t about the score.”
The rest of the second half was a battle of attrition, as the Terrapin players grew more and more fatigued while the El Salvador players controlled the pace of the game.
“We had a hard game on Friday night (against VCU) and added this game late but I thought we fought back and competed pretty well,” said Cirovski. “At the end we were a little fatigued but they’re a great squad. They play good soccer and they’re very skillful.”
Maryland continues its spring schedule with a road match against the Richmond Kickers on March 31, while El Salvador plays one more friendly before CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying tournament begins, facing Honduras’ U-23 team in Houston, Texas on Tuesday.