Fordham upsets men’s soccer in second round of NCAA tournament

Cavaliers lose 1-0 in final moments

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Goalkeeper Jeff Caldwell was among Virginia's seniors who ended their collegiate soccer careers with the loss to Fordham.

Mariana Fraser | Cavalier Daily

No. 8 Virginia hosted Fordham on a chilly Sunday evening at Klöckner Stadium for the second-round of the NCAA Tournament. The matchup makes the first meeting between the schools in the history of their programs and the Rams (13-5-2, 5-2-1 Atlantic 10) made the most of it, scoring in the 83rd minute to end the Cavaliers’ tournament with a 1-0 defeat.

After a first-round bye, the Cavaliers (12-3-5, 3-2-3 ACC) stepped onto the field for their 37th consecutive tournament appearance, the longest active streak in NCAA Division I soccer. Virginia entered as the No. 11 seed in the tournament, their highest placement since being eight seed in 2013. 

Looking to rebound from the ACC tournament after drawing 0-0 in in the title game then falling 4-3 to Notre Dame in penalty kicks, the Cavaliers hope to continue the great effort that saw them nearly take home an unexpected ACC Championship.

For Fordham, the journey to the second round was a battle, defeating St. Francis-Brooklyn 3-2 in overtime of their first round matchup.

The opening minutes of the contest were a possession game, with the ball remaining at the feet of Virginia defenders who were content to pass it around. Fordham seemed content to hang back in a compressed defensive line. In the first 15 minutes they rarely had more than one offensive player on the attacking half of the field.

Fordham’s defensive play style greatly impacted the game plan for Virginia.

“It’s difficult to play against a team, that’s you know, committed to defending like they were,” Virginia Coach George Gelnovatch said. “I think it’s hard for any team, right, any team that drops off and plays in their half, it’s hard … And you just wanna wear them down.”

Virginia junior forward Eddie Opoku had the first shot for either team in the 20th minute, a right-footed blast that was blocked in front of goal by a Ram defender.

Virginia found their first real chance on a set piece in the 27th minute on a foul called right outside the box. Virginia senior forward Pablo Aguilar took a sure strike, but the keeper saved the rip by diving to the bottom left corner of goal.

Virginia junior defender Sergi Nus had his own opportunity in the 45th minute, a set piece that was gathered similarly in the bottom left corner by the keeper.

Neither team was able to make an abundance of attacking chances in the opening half, with just one corner and five total shots between them, and entered the intermission tied at nil each. 

Chances began to come for the Cavaliers in the opening 15 minutes of the second half, with freshman forward Nathaniel Crofts Jr. getting off a great shot in the 53rd minute that scooted just to the right of goal.

In the 57th minute, Crofts Jr. gave Virginia another fantastic opportunity with a cross from the right side of the pitch, right in front of the goal for an Opoku header that was miraculously saved. 

Virginia needed just one of their many chances to fall, but could not find the back of the net.

“I do think we got around them a couple of times in really dangerous places, especially [Crofts Jr.] on the right side,” Gelnovatch said. “Where you know on a couple of those plays you’ve gotta score the one goal, and I think if you score the one goal in this game it’s over.”

A mistake in the backfield for Virginia cost them heavily, turning into an 83rd minute break and goal for the Rams to go up 1-0.

Gelnovatch reflected on the goal post game. Fordham had very few chances all contest but capitalized when it mattered most late in the game. 

“Good service, good run, completely against the run of play,” Gelnovatch said. “I think at that time they had three or four shots … And they finished the probably one good chance that they had all game.”

The NCAA Tournament loss ended Virginia’s season, but also the college careers of seniors Aguilar, goalkeeper Jeff Caldwell and defenders Nate Odusote, Sheldon Sullivan, Hayes Fountain and Ben Kurtz. Their impact on the program did not go unnoticed.

“Guys like [Aguilar] and [Caldwell] and [Sullivan], Liam Jenkins and Nate Odusote. Those guys are leaving here with a national championship,” Gelnovatch said. “And they’ll be back here in 25 years, when we celebrate with their kids, and they’ll have nothing but positive memories.”

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