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Overtime goal sends 'M' soccer to first-ever College Cup

Jake Fromm/Daily
Senior forward Justin Meram (9) plays against Maryland in an Elite Eight game of the NCAA tournament in College Park on Saturday, Dec. 4, 2010. Buy this photo

BY MATT SLOVIN
Daily Sports Writer
Published December 4, 2010

COLLEGE PARK, Md. — Youth triumphed over experience by the slimmest of margins, 3-2, in Saturday's NCAA quarterfinal battle between 10th-seeded Michigan and second-seeded Maryland. It wasn't any age discrepancy of the athletes, but rather the longevity of the respective programs.

“It was interesting staring at the sign that said 'Maryland Soccer, established 1946' and we were established in the year 2000,” Michigan coach Steve Burns said after the game.

The Terrapins have won two of the last five national championships, but that didn't stop the 11-year-old Michigan squad from earning its first-ever trip to the College Cup — college soccer's final four.

“There's an expectation every season at Maryland that we're going to be in the College Cup,” Maryland coach Sasho Cirovski said.

But the Wolverines never seemed flustered contending with a dynasty.

After the Terrapins came within inches of winning the game in overtime, Michigan took an opportunity in the second extra time period to advance with the Michigan soccer program's defining goal.

Sophomore midfielder Hamoody Saad dribbled into the box and saw freshman midfielder Fabio Pereira streaking to his right, toward the net. After a perfectly timed cross from Saad, Pereira scored the first goal of his young career.

“I don't usually make those runs,” Pereira said. “I was wide open, so I got a little happy there.”

Maryland dominated the game's early stages (19-3-1). But when the early goal finally came for the Terps — a blast from Traverse City, Mich. native Casey Townsend that barely found the side netting — neither Burns nor his players showed any alarm.

When the Wolverines made their way back onto the field for the second half, they played with a fearless mentality. In the half's opening moments, it became clear that Michigan (17-4-3) was going to get its chances. The Terrapin student section, located directly behind Michigan goalkeeper Chris Blais, mercilessly taunted him with cheers that would make many blush. But Blais kept his cool, accumulating seven saves — each one needed to prevent the Terrapins from cruising to the tournament's next round.

Four minutes into the half, a deflected throw in found Wolverine defender Jeff Quijano open from 16 yards out. His shot made its way through the defense and past a screened goalie for his first goal of the season. It couldn't have come at a more opportune time for Michigan.

“I felt something in me,” Quijano said. “I had a certain feeling that I just knew something was going to happen.”

The Michigan attack didn't let up following the equalizer. Hungry for more, senior forward Justin Meram took a pass from Quijano and ran with it. After he found the far post for what was the go-ahead goal, the Maryland student section became noticeably quieter, sensing the suddenly more imminent threat the Wolverines posed for the RPI's top-ranked squad.

The momentum shifted toward the Michigan faithful, including the Ultras — the Wolverines' soccer student section — 20 or so of whom made the 521-mile trip to witness history.

But the Terrapins' equally impressive attack wouldn’t go down without a fight.

After several near-misses, the breakthrough finally came in the 79th minute when Maryland fifth-year senior Jason Herrick renewed hope that the Terrapins would be able to escape unscathed.

The 2-2 stalemate continued into the second overtime, despite a continued onslaught of shots from Maryland. The Terrapins had a 33-18 advantage in that category for the game.

But just three minutes into the period, Pereira decided enough was enough. Pandemonium set in as his golden goal punched the Wolverines' ticket to Santa Barbara, Calif.

Michigan is now set to battle Akron in the first round of the College Cup on Friday night. This means a rematch for the Wolverines, who lost to the Zips 7-1 earlier this season. But the past isn't a focal point for Michigan.

“I haven't thought about (a rematch) much,” Burns said. “The Akron game was a turning point for us though. That was where we were exposed for not being a strong enough defensive team, and from that point on, we’ve focused on that.”