Photo by ISIphotos.com
By AVI CREDITOR
COLLEGE PARK, Md. — Colin Rolfe's one-man show has Louisville on the cusp of a return to the College Cup.
Rolfe, Louisville's leading scorer and last year's Hermann Trophy finalist, took apart Maryland's back line with a goal and three assists in leading the Cardinals to a 4-2 victory in the NCAA Tournament Round of 16 at Ludwig Field Sunday night. Louisville, seeded 12th, will host No. 13 UCLA the tournament quarterfinals next weekend, which will be a rematch of last year's wild, 5-4 affair won by Louisville in the same round.
Rolfe set up Daniel Keller for the game-winning goal in the 79th minute, cutting back a cross after getting in behind the back line to chase down a long service on a Louisville counterattack — a repeated theme on the night. In a similar sequence, Rolfe found Michael Roman for an insurance tally in the 84th minute that put the game away.
Rolfe scored his goal in the 53rd minute, outmuscling midfielder-turned-centerback Helge Leikvang for a long ball. He used his pace to gain separation and put enough power behind his shot from the top of the box to beat a retreating Keith Cardona despite the freshman goalkeeper getting his hands on the attempt to give Louisville a 2-1 lead.
"We noticed that they played a pretty high line," said Rolfe, who nearly opened the scoring in the third minute after getting in behind for the first of many long services on the night. "It was just something that playing in front of the back line wasn't working as well as we had hoped. There was a bunch of room in behind, and our guys in the back did a good job of recognizing it and playing some good balls."
Louisville repeatedly opted for quick counters on Maryland's makeshift back line, which featured Leikvang playing out of position at centerback in place of injured senior captain Alex Lee and forward Jordan Cyrus pressed into right back duty after Marquez Fernandez was injured in the first half.
"Any time we had time and space to play we looked to play in behind them," Louisville coach Ken Lolla said. "For us, we had the guys like Colin that could get in behind and get on the end of some things and create some problems for them. Many times a game will tell you what you need and dictate it, and tonight the game meant for us to be a little more direct."
Maryland coach Sasho Cirovski noted that backup centerback Kyle Roach picked up an injury in pregame warmups, limiting his defensive options even further.
"We had to reshuffle some players and had a makeshift back line, and against two of the best forwards in the country and a team that's as experienced and efficient as Louisville, it was almost a little too much to ask for," Cirovski said.
Even with Louisville's proficiency off the quick-hit counter, Maryland was able to stay in the game and seize momentum, twice battling back from one-goal deficits on the night.
Matt Oduaran leveled the score 15 minutes after Rolfe's goal, capitalizing after Leikvang's long free kick in the 68th minute wasn't dealt with in the area. He powered home the loose ball from short range for the equalizer and his first goal of the year.
Louisville kicked off the scoring in the first half only for Maryland to answer back, with their respective stars combining for the scoring chances.
Rolfe spotted fellow potential first-round MLS SuperDraft prospect Nick De Leon making a run through the area and found him with a precise cross from the right for the one-time finish in the 19th minute to give the Cardinals a 1-0 lead.
Maryland leveled it up in the 34th minute, with an unmarked Casey Townsend meeting Patrick Mullins' cross from the left at the back post for a simple header. For Townsend, who was locked up in an individual battle with omnipresent centerback Austin Berry for much of the night, the goal was his 17th of the season and 43rd of the senior's career, good for third all-time at Maryland.
The game stayed open throughout, with both teams creating chances at either end of the field.
Cardona, thrust into the starting role for the NCAA Tournament after being a backup to senior Will Swaim for the duration of the season, came up with big saves on a few occasions to hold back the Louisville attack.
He robbed Rolfe of an early goal after the senior forward got in behind centerbacks Leikvang and London Woodberry for a long ball over the top. Cardona rushed off his line and leaped to deny Rolfe's chip attempt.
A shaky backpass in the 12th minute forced Cardona into a sliding clearance with Rolfe bearing down on him, and, after a failed Maryland clearance in the 48th minute, Cardona came up with a diving effort to rob Alex Obbey of a follow-up blast.
The repeated waves of pressure and counterattacks proved too much for Maryland to overcome, however, as Louisville advanced to within one more win of its second consecutive College Cup.
The Cardinals, who lost in the final to Akron last season, struggled at times through a brutal schedule while trying to overcome the loss of injured playmaker Dylan Mares, but they appear to be rounding into form at the right time.
"We just couldn't put together a defensive performance worthy of advancing in this round against a very good team," Cirovski said. "You saw it a couple years ago when Akron lost in the final and came back and won, it wouldn't surprise me if this team goes all the way."