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Penn State Men’s Soccer Shows Maturity In Season-Defining Win

No. 16 Penn State men’s soccer defeated No. 17 Maryland in overtime on Tuesday night. The final result came off the back of a three-goal, comeback effort, with senior Christian Sload scoring the deciding golden goal in his last regular-season match at Jeffrey Field.

The victory was the first of the season against a ranked opponent for Penn State. After losses at the hands of top -10 teams Stanford and Indiana by an aggregate score of 8-1, the two-goal deficit seemed like another disappointing result waiting to happen after finally getting the recognition they deserved from the United Soccer Coaches Poll just a week prior.

On Tuesday night, however, Penn State showed the maturity of a team that belongs on the same field as the best teams in the nation.

“What a special night,” head coach Jeff Cook said after the match. “The team showed the character that they have; in a position where you’re two goals down against the defending national champion and to come back in that manner tells you everything you need to know about our group.”

Tuesday’s comeback wasn’t any ordinary win for the Nittany Lions, who have reached a double-digit win total for the first time since 2013. The program hadn’t defeated Maryland since 2005. The last time the Nittany Lions came back from a two-goal deficit was 2008 when they defeated Ohio State 3-2.

For the veterans on the team, this campaign is a new feeling after disappointing results over the past few years.

“This whole season has been so much different for me than any of the past [years],” Sload said following his heroic golden goal. “As a whole, this season has been eye-opening for me as to how much I love this team.”

Sophomore Seth Kuhn is the only current Penn State player to play in an NCAA Tournament match, due to his transfer from Duke after last season. According to Cook, despite the lack of experience in big matches, the leaders on the team should be praised for Penn State’s turn in fortunes.

“What [the veterans] showed you tonight was their belief in each other and what we are trying to achieve as a team. Their leadership was vital, obviously Hack gets the first goal,” Cook said. “Those guys were fantastic.”

While the likes of Brandon Hackenberg, Sload, and captain Aaron Molloy can be credited with leading the team out of NCAA obscurity, no one can doubt the maturity that Cook has instilled in the roster. The former Philadelphia Union academy coach has preached a competitive drive in every aspect of the game.

While the Nittany Lions were out of their depth in early season losses against top sides, Cook’s message wasn’t taken for granted when adversity struck against the Terrapins.

“[Cook] was stressing that there were no moral victories in this game. We knew we had to come out and fight. We were here to win,” Sload said.

The Nittany Lions (10-2-3, 5-1-1 Big Ten) sit second place in the Big Ten despite the team projected to finish sixth in the preseason poll. However, while the postseason is now a firm reality, the squad still won’t stray from their 1-0 mentality. When asked if thoughts should stray beyond their decision day match in Piscataway, New Jersey, the veterans had one answer.

“It’s still just Rutgers,” Hackenberg said.

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About the Author

Otis Lyons

Otis is a sophomore majoring in print journalism and is one of Onward State's associate editors. He lives just north of San Francisco, and is a diehard San Jose Earthquakes fan. Feel free to send over your soccer hot takes to his twitter @otisnlyons1 and instagram @otislyons

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