Late goal spoils near win
No. 24 Xavier’s free kick goal in 85th minute evens score for 1-1 tie
The Virginia men’s soccer team came tantalizingly close to adding another signature victory to its early season résumé Friday night at home against No. 24 Xavier. Instead, a late goal by Musketeer junior midfielder Gino De Paoli forced the Cavaliers to settle for a 1-1 draw.
Virginia (3-2-1, 1-0 ACC) seemed poised to hold on for a 1-0 victory until Xavier’s (4-0-2) De Paoli scored on a breathtaking free kick from 30 yards out with just five minutes remaining. The late equalizer sent the game into a sudden death overtime period, which ended in a stalemate.
The tie keeps the Musketeers unbeaten on the season while snapping their four-game winning streak. But their six-game unbeaten streak remains intact and is the program’s longest since 1995.
“I’m disappointed in that we were winning with five minutes left and weren’t able to see it through,” Virginia coach George Gelnovatch said. “But Xavier is a good, playoff caliber team. They are a tough, experienced team, with a handful of very good college soccer players.”
The Cavaliers got on the board first as freshman midfielder Brian James scored his first career goal off a fortuitous defensive deflection in the 67th minute.
“It’s a great feeling,” James said. “It’ll boost my confidence a lot … I was glad to be able to put my team up one.”
James’ fielded a throw-in while holding off two Musketeers who were fighting for the ball behind him. Spinning quickly off his left shoulder, James was able to split the defenders and race past them down the sideline.
As he neared the end line, James stopped, pivoted and fired a low, hard probing cross in front of the goal. Senior goalkeeper Justin Marshall came out to save it, but a sliding Musketeer defender got a foot on the ball and redirected it into the back of the net to give the Cavaliers the lead with barely more than 20 minutes remaining.
“I tried to get it across the goal,” James said. “I knew someone had to hit it in, I’m just happy that it went in the back of the net.”
Xavier — the two-time defending Atlantic-10 champion — has a veteran roster that highlights Virginia’s comparative youth. The Musketeers started seven upperclassmen on Friday including four seniors, compared to a Virginia starting group that consists of only two upperclassman, senior forward and tri-captain Will Bates and junior defender Kevin McBride.
The disparity in experience was evident early as Xavier opened with three shots in the first 15 minutes of the game. Although none hit net, Virginia’s young roster was soundly overmatched against the Musketeers aggression and organization in the early minutes.
“I don’t know if we started the game with the right mentality, knowing that these guys can play,” Gelnovatch said. “It seems like in the first half [some of the first-years’] heads were spinning a little bit to be honest with you.”
The opening period finished with neither team able to find the go-ahead goal despite firing a combined 13 shots. Virginia’s best chance to score came in the 14th minute when Bates got his head on a corner kick and directed it toward goal, only to see Marshall make a leaping save.
Xavier had chances to score in the first half as well. In the 38th minute, a pair of Musketeers launched consecutive shots to opposite sides of the goal posts within seconds of each other, yet were somehow unable to capitalize.
The Cavaliers found their footing after the break, however, regaining their composure and outplaying Xavier for long periods of the second half. After allowing seven shots in the first period, Virginia permitted just four in the second half and overtime.
“There were a couple stretches during the [second half] that we had them on their heels a little bit,” Gelnovatch said. “I think the response was good.”
On a night when even golden opportunities went for naught, James’ late goal seemed to give the Cavaliers complete control of the game. With just minutes remaining, however, that sense of security was wiped away by De Paoli’s heroics.
In the 85th minute, De Paoli took everyone in Klöckner Stadium by surprise when he curved his long free kick into the top corner of the far post. It may have either been a perfect strike or simply a luckily off target cross attempt, but the shot proved to be impossible for sophomore goalkeeper Spencer LaCivita to save.
With the game still tied at the end of regulation, the Cavaliers entered overtime for the third time this season. In each of their previous overtime excursions — against No. 12 Georgetown and No. 13 UCLA — Virginia ended up losing, but this time Virginia showed resilience as the team held on through the two 10-minute overtime periods to earn the draw and one point in the standings.
“It’s a good result in that the past two times we’ve gotten in this [overtime] situation we’ve ended up dropping 3 points,” Bates said. “So it’s a good way to at least take a point from it.”