It all came together for Nebraska soccer on Friday night.
The Huskers (4-8-2, 3-4 Big Ten) have been plagued all season by inconsistent play, game-losing lapses in concentration and a lack of finishing ability—but those concerns were alleviated, at least for a night, as the Huskers defeated Maryland 2-0 at Barbara Hibner Stadium.
Nebraska played its most complete game of the season against the Terrapins (7-5-2, 3-3 Big Ten), led by senior midfielder Meg Brandt’s two-goal performance. The Ankeny, Iowa native notched her first two goals of the season against the Terrapins, with the first coming in the third minute.
Brandt’s goal came as the result of a quick start for the Husker attack, and her finish came from a perfect grounded cross from redshirt freshman Adriana Maldonado. Brandt settled the ball and fired her effort off of a Terrapin defender and into the back of the net to give the Huskers an early 1-0 lead.
“Recently we haven’t been getting quick goals in games and scoring right away helped build our confidence for the rest of the game,” Brandt said. “There were a lot of girls working really hard for that goal and I could feel one coming early on.”
Despite Nebraska’s early score and early offensive attack the Terrapins nearly tied the match 15 minutes later. After an uncharacteristic turnover from senior defender Sinclaire Miramontez, Maryland pushed the ball forward to their team’s leading scorer, redshirt sophomore forward Alyssa Poarch.
Nebraska senior goalie Aubrei Corder read the pass, though, coming off of her line to cut down Poarch’s angle and saving her effort on goal in the 19th minute. The Huskers responded well to the Terrapin’s offensive advance, as Brandt, Maldonado and freshman forward Marissa Popoola had looks in the ensuing 13 minutes but were unable to put it on target.
However Brandt was able to break through again in the 36th minute, after Popoola played her in on goal and Brandt fired a smooth, left-footed curler around Maryland’s goalkeeper and into the net to give the Huskers a 2-0 lead. The Terrapins were unable to generate a first-half response to the Huskers, so the halftime score remained 2-0.
Maryland attempted to come out in the second half and break down Nebraska but were unable to do so, in part because Nebraska’s midfield dominated the Terrapins for 90 minutes. The trio of senior Brenna Ochoa, sophomore Kenzie Coons and sophomore Hannah Young dictated the flow of the match while limiting Maryland’s advances.
“Me, Hannah and Kenzie were all on the same page tonight,” Ochoa said. “We were communicating really well as a unit and I’m proud of both Hannah and Kenzie for stepping up and having great games tonight.”
Poarch’s chance in the 19th minute was the best look Maryland had all night, and the Terrapins were unable to generate any chances in the second half. Their best second-half opportunity came from a 77th minute free kick from 20 yards out, but Terrapin junior midfielder Malikae Dayes pushed her effort wide of the net.
Nebraska was only able to muster one shot on target in the second half, but it did a fantastic job of managing the game and not making any critical errors. The Huskers played a complete 90 minutes and earned a well-deserved 2-0 victory.
“It was really nice to have consistency tonight because we’ve struggled all year with starting games strong and finishing them not as strong,” Ochoa said. “It was really relieving to have a game where we were consistent for 90 minutes.”
The Huskers couldn’t have picked a better time to pick up three points, as losses to Iowa and Michigan last week left the Huskers fighting for one of the last spots in the Big Ten tournament. Earning three points leaves the Huskers in a good position in a conference with parity from top to bottom.
“There’s always a lot going on in the Big Ten and you never know what’s going to happen with the results,” Brandt said. “We don’t want to get too down on what happened in the past, we just need to take things game-by-game and push forward.”
Ochoa agreed with Brandt’s thoughts on the importance of Friday’s victory, adding that three points were vital especially with No. 21 Rutgers visiting Lincoln on Sunday. While the Scarlet Knights are a formidable foe, the Huskers are confident that they can go toe-to-toe with anyone in the conference as long as they play their brand of soccer.
“All of us got together right after the game and we said ‘this is how Nebraska plays soccer, this is us.’ and everyone was really pumped to hear that,” Brandt said. “We know that we have to carry this on to the next game and play like we did tonight.”