Maryland women’s soccer vs. Iowa preview

Maryland women’s soccer vs. Iowa preview

Maryland women’s soccer makes the trip to Iowa City, Iowa to take on the Iowa Hawkeyes Thursday night.

“They’re an opportunistic team,” Maryland head coach Ray Leone said about Iowa. “You know, they’re very well-coached, experienced, obviously had a great run last year…It’s gonna be a very big game. So, we just got to be at our best. It’s so much about us right now and not the other team.”

The Terps are looking to improve from an 0-1-2 opening Big Ten homestead. Maryland is coming off a 1-1 draw against Northwestern, where it conceded the game-tying goal in the 90th minute. Midfielder Loren Sefcik scored the Terps’ only goal in the 53rd minute off a beautiful assist from forward Alyssa Poarch, leading to the result. Maryland looks to move past the heartbreak of allowing a last-second goal and earn its first Big Ten victory on the road.

In the all-time series, the Hawkeyes hold a 4-2 advantage over the Terps. The last time these two teams played was on March 21, when former Iowa forward Gianna Gourley scored the overtime game-winner to lift the Hawkeyes to a 1-0 victory.

Thursday’s matchup is set to begin at 8 p.m. and will air on BTN Plus. Now, let’s dive into this year’s Hawkeyes squad.

Iowa Hawkeyes (7-3-1, 1-2 Big Ten)

Spring 2021 record: 7-9-1 (2-8-1 Big Ten)

Head coach Dave Dilanni is in his eighth season at the forefront of the Iowa women’s soccer program. Dilanni has had success at Iowa, compiling a 75-60-10 record at the school and winning its first-ever Big Ten title last season. The Canadian has had success before arriving in Iowa City, including three NCAA Division II national championships at Grand Valley State. His 0.895 winning percentage was the best in Division II history. Dilanni has a successful coaching resume and has elevated the Hawkeyes to another level.

The Hawkeyes are coming off a rollercoaster season that included a Big Ten Tournament title. Iowa only won two games during the regular season but ended up winning out in postseason play to make the NCAA Tournament, despite going under .500. Iowa even won a game in the tournament and took No. 3 UCLA to the wire before bowing out in the second round. Dilanni’s squad carried that momentum heading into the season, but have since stumbled, losing its last two Big Ten games. Iowa was projected to finish tied for seventh in the 2021 Big Ten Women’s Soccer Preseason Poll.

Players to know

Alyssa Walker, graduate student forward, No. 11 — Through 11 games, Walker has paced the Hawkeyes with five goals, 10 points and 41 shots. It is Walker’s first year with Iowa, coming over as a graduate transfer after spending five seasons at Richmond. She excelled with the Spiders, receiving All-Atlantic-10 Second Team honors in 2019 after leading the conference with 11 goals. With a goal in Iowa’s last game against Purdue, it is clear her talent has already translated over to the Big Ten level.

Hailey Rydberg, senior midfielder, No. 2 — Rydberg has made her impact felt, leading the Hawkeyes with six assists on the season. The St. Charles, Illinois product was dominant in the spring, starting all 17 games and recording a team-high 44 shots. Her efforts on the field led to her being named Iowa’s Most Valuable Player, while also earning Big Ten All-Tournament Team recognition. Rydberg is team captain for the second straight season.

Monica Wilhelm, redshirt junior goalkeeper, No. 28 — Wilhelm has been outstanding in the net so far for the Hawkeyes, playing every single minute. She has only allowed 0.79 goals on average, a big improvement from her 1.64 goals-against average mark in the spring. Wilhelm has not been tested greatly, only averaging 2.64 saves per game, but her performances have been good enough to guide the Hawkeyes to their 7-3-1 record.

Strength

Registering shots. In terms of shots taken, the Hawkeyes’ output sits near the top of the Big Ten. Iowa has rattled off an impressive 94 shots on goal and 8.55 shots on goal per game, stats that rank second and third in the entire conference, respectively. Comparatively, the Terps rank in the bottom-five in the league in both statistics. If Iowa can dominate the game’s shot total, it has a chance to dictate how Thursday’s match goes.

Weakness

Fouling. The Hawkeyes lead the Big Ten in fouls by quite a wide margin. Iowa has been tabbed with 144 fouls this season, and the next closest team in the conference is Michigan State with 123. Maryland has stayed disciplined this year with only 87 fouls, but its past couple of games have been chippy and the officials have not been hesitant to blow their whistles. This game has the makings of a physical one, and one big one from either side could sway the outcome.

Three things to watch

1. How will Maryland’s steady defense respond to Iowa’s potent offense? The Terps’ defense has been “on point” as of late, as defender Adalee Broadbent describes it. Broadbent recently returned from a three-game absence, which was a huge addition for the Terps. In its last six outings, Maryland has only allowed one goal per game. The recent stretch also includes two shutouts, both of which were draws. Maryland’s defense has also been asked to play overtime, lasting 110 minutes in four of the last six games. Every conference game is tough, and the Terps will have their hands full with the Hawkeyes.

“I feel like everybody in the Big Ten is very competitive and they’re going to give us a challenge,” Broadbent said. “So, I think we just have to stay tight defensively, stay organized and utilize a lot of communication in order to keep us all where we’re supposed to be. I think if we do those things we’ll be successful this weekend.”

2. How the Liz Brucia-Madeline Smith goalkeeper duo performs on the road in the Big Ten. As Maryland begins to enter the heart of Big Ten play, its goalkeepers will matter more than ever. The competition will start to heat up as each game has postseason implications. Until indicated otherwise, the tandem will be used in every game as a way to keep both high-caliber goalkeepers ready. Brucia and Smith have each allowed less than a goal on average, with the former sitting at 0.92 per game and the latter at 0.95.

“I think me and Maddie and all the other goalkeepers as well really work well together and every day in practice we’re pushing each other,” Brucia said. “I think since she’s been cleared, she’s pushed me a lot…to work harder in practice and just reach a new level. So, I think every day in training we’re pushing each other, and then when we’re on the field we’re both supportive of each other.”

3. Will Alyssa Poarch be out there for the Terps? Maryland welcomed back its star with open arms Thursday, as she worked her way back from a four-plus week absence. Poarch looked great, recording an assist on the Terps’ only goal of the weekend. However, Poarch substituted off the field after going down with an injury in the 78th minute. She was down for a few moments but eventually walked off the field under her own power. It will be interesting to see if Poarch can play against Iowa or when she will play again.

“Not yet,” Leone said regarding news on Poarch’s status. “[We] just want to wait and see what the doctors say.”

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