The Ohio State men’s soccer team’s home schedule might be over, but its sights are now set on being able to host at least one more game at Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium this season.
“Getting to come back home, we definitely have that proposition at hand this year,” redshirt-senior goalkeeper Alex Ivanov said. “I think it gives us more motivation to keep playing well and get one of those top four seeds.”
The Buckeyes (7-5-4, 4-2-0) will have a chance to return to Columbus to host a quarterfinal matchup in the Big Ten tournament if they finish in the top four of the conference.
As of Thursday, OSU sits in second place with 12 points – three points behind leader Penn State. However, the Nittany Lions have played one more conference game than the Buckeyes.
“We have two very important games ahead of us, and if we win them both, we can be Big Ten champs,” senior midfielder Yianni Sarris said. “The goal is to win them both and give us the trophy.”
Maryland (9-5-2, 3-2-1) — currently tied for fourth place — sits two points behind the Buckeyes, making OSU’s trip to College Park, Md., on Saturday a crucial affair.
“I think we’re excited more than anything,” Ivanov said. “The chance to travel to Maryland for the first time in our school’s history for a while, I think, is something we’re excited about.”
OSU coach John Bluem said being able to begin the conference tournament in Columbus instead of on the road would make a major difference for the team.
“It would be huge. To finish in the top four of this conference, first of all, is a tremendous accomplishment,” he said. “We have a conference that’s very, very strong, so being able to play at home would make a big difference.”
The Buckeyes and Terrapins will come into the game in the midst of the two longest active unbeaten streaks in the Big Ten.
OSU is unbeaten in its last four matches, including three victories, while Maryland is currently riding a six-game winning streak.
“I think the chemistry’s good with the team and we’re really doing well with going forward and converting our opportunities,” Ivanov said on the Buckeyes’ play in recent games
The Terrapins currently lead the Big Ten in goals per game with 1.69. However, they have been in trouble when the other team gets shots on goal off through its defense.
On the year, Maryland sophomore goalkeeper Zack Steffen — who has started every match — has only stopped 25 of 40 shots on goal. That adds up to a .625 save percentage, the worst in the nation for a goalkeeper playing at least 50 percent of his team’s minutes.
However, Maryland has made it difficult for opponents to get those shots off in front of Steffen, only allowing an average of 7.3 total shots per game. OSU, on the other hand, averages taking about 13 per game.
“My mindset is still the same, I don’t know about the players,” Bluem said on the importance of the final two road games. “Going down to Maryland, we’re hoping to do well so we can maintain our place in the Big Ten Conference.”
The two teams are currently side-by-side in the RPI, with OSU coming in at No. 22 and Maryland sitting one spot behind at No. 23.
OSU’s matchup against Maryland is set to kick off at 7 p.m. in College Park, Md. After that, the Buckeyes are set to conclude the regular season against Michigan in Ann Arbor, Mich., on Wednesday. That game is scheduled to begin at 7:30 p.m.