Men’s soccer ties Syracuse 2-2 in overtime of ACC opener

Cavaliers faced aggressive defense in tie


Syracuse’s aggressive defense started to get overrun, as Virginia went up 2-0 in the 74th minute on an amazing turn and strike from junior midfielder Jean-Christophe Koffi. 

Richard Dizon | Cavalier Daily

No. 11 Virginia men’s soccer was not defeated on its home turf, tying No. 7 Syracuse 2-2 in a gigantic ACC opener. The comeback, after being down 1-0 early, showed the toughness of a squad in a real battle for supremacy in a conference with seven of the top 11 teams.

The Cavaliers (3-0-1) had not hosted a conference opener since 2014 — a 1-0 victory over Virginia Tech. They proved their resilience and sent a notice to the rest of the ACC with their ability to come back.

“Every point matters in this league — holy smokes — every goal matters,” Coach George Gelnovatch said. “You want to take three points at home, but it doesn’t happen every time … We will learn our lessons from this game.”

Freshman defender Henry Kessler received his first start of the season in place of junior defender Prosper Figbe. Figbe has had to leave multiple contests early due to injury, not returning in the Cavaliers game against UNC-Wilmington.

It was easy to see why Syracuse (3-0-2) had scored eight goals in four games — its defense swarmed the backline. Through the first 15 minutes, Virginia defenders did not have a second to breathe before encountering an encroaching Orange forward.

The press forced the Cavaliers to play a different style of offense than they had to in the previous three contests. Offense came from quick counter-attacks, as the ball was pushed up to junior forward Edward Opoku, who was often going one on four.

“Teams have been doing it — Hofstra did it to us — there have been several teams that have done it,” Gelnovatch said. “It can be effective, but it’s hard to sustain … We always talk about being patient.”

Syracuse’s first goal came on a rare counter-attack — they had a majority of the possession — a 21st minute penalty kick netted by junior forward Hugo Delhommelle. Junior defender Sergi Nus was the culprit on the chase down penalty.

Virginia had the opportunity to counter with a penalty kick in the 34th minute but could not find the back of the net. The offense continued to pick up as Syracuse’s press began to slow down due to fatigue. 

“They score a goal … We miss an opportunity on a [penalty kick], so essentially we come in with what I think would be a tie score, and then we go about our business of wearing teams down,” Gelnovatch said. “Which we did — we score one, we score another one and we wear you down.”

The high-powered Cavalier offense would not be denied for two halves. Senior midfielder Pablo Aguilar was able to create some space in the 61st minute and rip one into the top right corner past the outstretched Syracuse keeper.

Syracuse’s aggressive defense started to get overrun, as Virginia went up 2-0 in the 74th minute on an amazing turn and strike from junior midfielder Jean-Christophe Koffi. 

The Orange returned the favor, equalizing in the 83rd minute. Opoku felt he had been shoved off his run right before the goal was scored and told the official. He promptly received a red-card disqualification. 

Neither team was able to net a golden goal game winner in overtime. The game ended in a tie and a learning experience for the Cavaliers.

“It’s early — I’m super proud of the effort, and I’m super proud of of the way we handled ourselves in the second half and the two goals that we got,” Gelnovatch said. “And we have to learn from this — we let this one get away from us, and we will learn from it.”

Virginia plays its final game of an opening five game home stand against Marquette next Tuesday at 7 p.m. or on television at ACC Network Extra.

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