With family, friends and neighbors in the stands, Zack Steffen capped his impressive freshman season at the University of Maryland by playing in the National Championship Game at PPL Park on Sunday afternoon. Unfortunately, a pair of goals off of set pieces kept him from joining a club of Championship-winning former Terps that includes Union players Zac MacMath and Matt Kassel and Technical Director Rob Vartughian.
Steffen made four saves in the game, including one diving to his left to push a low hard shot from co-Most Outstanding Player of the tournament Harrison Shipp out for a corner early in the first half. A couple of defensive lapses and controversial no-calls from MLS Referee of the Year Hilario Grajeda denied the Downingtown native a title in front of the hometown crowd.
Fellow Union Academy alum Alex Shinsky played 62 minutes off of the bench - just the fourth time he's played an hour or more this season - and was as active as he's been all year in a junior season hampered by injuries (Shinsky's lone goal of the season came against Cal in the quarterfinal). Though at times guilty of the extra dribble, the York native showed that it wasn't lack of skill that limited him to only 16 games and three starts this season.
Shinksy's header off of a corner kick in the 35th minute was on its way into the back of the net when Notre Dame's Patrick Hodan deflected the ball with his arm in what would have, had the whistle been blown, been a penalty kick and red card.
Maryland forward Patrick Mullins, who admitted to handling what was the second of three handballs in the box not whistled in the game, ended up scoring the goal to give the Terps the lead but Leon Brown equalized for the Irish five minutes later. West Chester native Andrew O'Malley's 60th minute headed goal off a Harrison Shipp free kick held up to give Notre Dame and their coach Bobby Clark their first National Championship.
Sophomore forward Darius Madison, an all-tournament team selection, was a handful for the Maryland defense in the Friday night semifinal, showing his speed and skill on the ball.
With Maryland up 1-0 on a masterful goal by Patrick Mullins (the potential first pick in the MLS SuperDraft scored three times over the weekend), Madison nearly delivered an equalizer in the 49th minute when his shot was deflected just enough by Steffen to push it off the post and out for a corner. Steffen finished the game with five saves, none bigger than the one he made in the 88th minute, a one-handed diving save that rescued the Terps from what looked like a sure overtime-forcing equalizer.
A penalty kick for a foul in the box buried by Todd Wharton in the 77th minute kept Steffen from recording his ninth clean sheet of the season.