Men’s soccer finishes home stand with 4-2 victory over Lehigh

No. 10 Cavalier’s stretch unbeaten streak to five games

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Junior forward Edward Opoku scored a goal in Virginia's 4-2 win over Lehigh. 

Hannah Mussi | Cavalier Daily

No. 10 Virginia concluded its three game home stand with a 4-2 comeback victory over Lehigh. Chemistry and confidence are two things that cannot be overlooked, and the Cavaliers (9-1-2, 2-1-2 ACC) are building plenty of momentum heading down the stretch. The Cavaliers couldn’t look past the Mountain Hawks (7-4-1, 2-1-1 Patriot League) and now have only one remaining non-conference game in their regular season schedule. 

Lehigh faced their first Top-25 opponent this season, looking to enter Klöckner Stadium and walk away with a gigantic upset. Virginia junior defender Sergi Nus did his best all night to fend off that upset, scoring one of Virginia’s four goals, coming off his first ACC Defensive Player of the Week honor on Monday.

The Cavalier defense was pressured heavily early on in a matchup in which many believed they would dominate possession. The first 15 minutes were an end-to-end battle that slowed down as the first half came towards a close. However, a lazy tackle in the box resulted in a Lehigh penalty kick and in the 38th minute the Mountain Hawks took the 1-0 lead.

Lehigh came out in the second half with the confidence of a team hungry and able to upset a higher-ranked opponent on their own pitch. The first goal seemed to motivate the Mountain Hawks in only their second Power 5 conference matchup of the season, giving them the energy to fend off a great second half Virginia offense. 

“We didn’t play a great first half, and we all got together … We were like, ‘Guys, listen. This is our season. It’s really important to get back at it. This is a really important game,’” Virginia senior midfielder Pablo Aguilar said. “I think we came out with a great attitude in the second half. We made a couple of changes in our formation. I think that helped a lot.”

With nothing going for the Cavaliers, Virginia sophomore midfielder Robin Afamefuna was able to draw a penalty kick in the 60th minute. It was capped off with another finish from Nus, who seems to find the back of the net at least once a game. 

The euphoria of Virginia’s first goal quickly dissipated from the stadium, as Lehigh gained its second lead of the game with a goal in the 67th minute to go up 2-1.  Excitement and relief swept over Klöckner in the 73rd minute, as Aguilar tied the contest back up at two.

“Obviously, it was a very tough game, but I think we’ve shown throughout the year that we can come back,” Aguilar said. “That second goal was obviously tough on us, but I think we maintained a positive attitude.”

Although both offenses were slow to start the game, the second half provided endless excitement. With just under 10 minutes left in the contest, Virginia junior forward Edward Opoku did what he does best and found the back of the net. The 82nd-minute goal proved to be the peak to a marvelous Virginia comeback.

Opoku’s goal came off multiple deflections, where he found himself in the right spot to make a few simple moves and found an open right side of the goal. The goals kept flowing for the Cavaliers as Opoku added assist to his growing point total, finding sophomore forward Ryan Peterson on a cross from the right side of the box that was one-touched into the bottom of the net. 

Virginia Coach George Gelnovatch was impressed with his team’s mindset in the comeback victory.

“This team has a lot of resilience … When they get put in a position where they’re down, they respond quickly,” Gelnovatch said. “Typically in a couple years past, in these midweek games ... It's been tougher for us — a little more of a grind. I think this team always believes we’re gonna score.”

The resiliency of the Cavaliers cannot be overlooked in a contest that saw them come back from multiple deficits to put up four second half goals and remain unbeaten in their last five contests. The players did not loss their drive to keep the winning streak alive.

“I think when you haven’t lost a game in many, your confidence grows,” Aguilar said. “The confidence of each player that comes into the field and is playing grows — so it’s really important to keep this unbeaten streak.”

Virginia travels to Raleigh, N.C. on Friday to take on NC State at 7:00 p.m. 

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