Maryland 1 – North Carolina 0 – December 14, 2008 – Frisco, Texas – No prisoners were taken in this one with both teams giving it their all in a game that was pretty at times but that was rather sloppy down the home stretch as both teams looked like tired prize fighters throwing the soccer equivalent of knockout punches instead of trying to put together combinations.
No matter what the level of play the difference between winning and losing almost always comes down to execution of the fundamentals of the game and physical fitness. Ditto that for the national championship contest between the Terps and the Tar Heels. In soccer the ability to maintain possession reflects both of those factors. Maryland got the best of the possession and as the match progressed that took a natural toll on the Tar Heels. As fatigue began to come into play the Tar Heels began to make the unforced errors that usually result in the type of opportunities that Maryland is able to exploit.
During the first half of play the Tar Heels had success at times with good diagonal runs up top while putting together combinations of passes that kept the Terp backline busy. Maryland seemed to have trouble getting their attack in gear in the early going and resorted to the long ball to their detriment on several occasions instead of playing through their midfielders.
Midway thorough the first stanza of play Maryland began to get into a rhythm on the offensive side of the ball and began to put together combinations of passes that produced several scoring opportunities. However, a bend but don’t break Tar Heel defense led by another solid performance from junior goalkeeper Brooks Haggerty kept the Terps from finding the back of the net.
During the second half of play the physical pace of the match picked up considerably. Both teams continued to attack seeking to find weaknesses that they could exploit.
The Terps finally broke through with just under twenty-four minutes remaining in the second half of play when senior midfielder Graham Zusi controlled a rebound of teammate Jeremy Hall’s shot and drove it via his left foot into the back of the net from just outside the top of the box. The goal was set up by junior midfielder Doug Rodkey who quickly pushed the ball down the right side of the pitch getting behind the Tar Heel backline before sending a cross in that resulted in Hall’s shot.
Maryland completes a dream season winning their sixteenth consecutive match to finish with a 23-3-0 season. The win was a total team effort for a Maryland side that has steadily improved as the season has progressed. The Terps are always productive on the offensive side of the ball but the play of the Maryland backline of Omar Gonzalez, Rich Costanzo, A.J. Delagarza, Rodney Wallace and freshman netminder Zac MacMath who came up with several big stops during the contest with North Carolina was particularly impressive. Senior Graham Zusi set the pace for the Terps on the offensive side of the ball coming up with the game winning goal in the semifinal match with St. Johns as well as in the national championship match with North Carolina.
A gutsy North Carolina team finished the 2008 season with a 15-8-2 overall record. The Heels made a great run in the NCAA Tourney play to get to the championship match pulling off the upset of the tournament when they defeated Wake Forest 1-0 in the semifinals on Friday before giving the Terps a run for their money in the national championship match.
It was a big win for Maryland who once again prove that it is always wise to fear the turtle!