Patrick Mullins slid to his knees and pumped his fists, trailed by a streaking parade of white-jerseyed teammates stomping towards an impending dog pile. The Maryland men’s soccer team celebrated in droves, their final four ticket punched, the lingering, foul odor from last season’s departure sapped from the air.
The second-seeded Terrapins held a one-goal lead before Mullins soared through the box off a Taylor Kemp cross in the 68th minute, gathered the rebound from his own header and muscled it past Louisville keeper Mike Mauro. The junior’s 16th goal this season stamped a 3-1 win in College Park, sending Maryland to Hoover, Ala. for its illustrious senior class’s first College Cup appearance.
Maryland (20-1-2) will next face Georgetown, which beat San Diego, 3-1, at North Kehoe Field to reach the national semifinals for the first time in program history. Kickoff will be at 5 or 7:30 p.m. Friday.
“At the end of training yesterday, I met the team in the locker room, I told them how much I love them, how proud I am of them this year,” Coach Sasho Cirovski said. “No one can take that away from them. The depth of this team, along with selfless, humility and skill, their single-mindedness to make sure we get back to the College Cup, was a great joy and a source of inspiration.
“I knew we’d come out with a magical performance tonight. That’s what that was.”
Louisville (14-6-1), ranked 10th nationally, bounced Maryland from the NCAA tournament last season at Ludwig Field, using a relentless counterattack in a 4-2 victory that ended the Terps’ season with just one win in their final six games. Maryland earned partial retribution on Aug. 26 with a 3-0 rout at home, but that was a mere precursor. The Terps were hunting bigger game and hit their mark Saturday night.
Since Wake Forest spoiled Maryland’s undefeated bid in the season finale in Winston Salem, N.C., one month ago, the Terps rolled to four straight 2-1 victories, then drubbed Coastal Carolina by four goals last Sunday to set up the rematch with Louisville.
“This game had a lot of intrigue to it, a lot of reasons,” Cirovski said. “Our team came out with hunger, a lot of tenacity and a skill set that carried us through it. I’m delighted that our seniors will get to play in a College Cup. This group was not going to let it pass them by. They worked their butt off, and it started the day after we lost to Louisville last year. There were kids already in the weight room and on the field, starting the process. We’re not satisfied with getting to the College Cup. The preparation’s already started, and we’ll be ready to roll.”
Senior London Woodberry put the Terps up 1-0 in the 33rd minute, heading a free kick from Kemp past Mauro by the far post, his first goal since Sept. 29. Louisville forward Zach Foxhoven netted the equalizer seven minutes later, countering quickly off a Terps corner and easily punching it past goalie Keith Cardona.
But with 40 seconds left before halftime, Maryland’s Jake Pace struck a header in the box from Dakota Edwards into the net, cartwheeling into the far corner with his teammates not far behind and 3,556 bundled fans hooting in the backdrop.
A dominant defensive performance kept the Cardinals at bay as the clock ticked down and the public address announcer gently reminded fans to refrain from storming the field. Maryland outshot Louisville 16-5, had eight more corner kicks and needed just one save from Cardona.
The Terps had exited the NCAA tournament with home losses each of the past two seasons and hadn’t reached the national semifinals since 2008. They ended Saturday with their seventh College Cup appearance under Cirovski.
“I can’t even describe it. I’m emotional,” Kemp said. “After the game I couldn’t stop smiling. . . . This team has meant as much to be as any team I’ve ever been on. For me and the seniors and everybody, it means everything right now.”
●GEORGETOWN 3, SAN DIEGO 1: The third-seeded Hoyas advanced to the College Cup for the first time by beating the Toreros in front of a sellout crowd of 1,927 at North Kehoe Field.
San Diego (14-9-0) scored first in the 50th minute, but Georgetown (19-3-2) responded with an own goal and goals by Melvin Snoh and Andy Riemer. Steve Neumann assisted on Snoh’s goal off a free kick in the 73rd minute.
The own goal came off Neumann’s free kick from 45 yards out, which was headed backward into the top right corner of the net.