No. 17 men’s soccer defeats No. 13 Notre Dame 2-1 in ACC Semifinal

Cavaliers move on to ACC Championship game for first time since 2013

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Virginia freshman forward Joe Bell scored in the 54th minute to give his team a 2-1 lead over Notre Dame.

Andrew Walsh | Cavalier Daily

The No. 17 Virginia men’s soccer team hosted No 13. Notre Dame for their ACC Semifinal matchup in an extremely important contest for seeding in the NCAA tournament, defeating their opponent, 2-1. The two teams played to a 1-1 draw in their only meeting of the regular season at South Bend, Ind. 

The Cavaliers (12-3-4, 3-2-3 ACC) had not hosted an ACC Semifinal at Klöckner Stadium in over 20 years and had not played in one since 2013. They had to beat Louisville 4-3 in penalty kicks in the ACC Quarterfinal matchup after holding them to a shutout in regulation and overtime. 

Notre Dame (11-6-2, 3-3-2 ACC) took down second-seeded North Carolina 2-1 to find itself facing Virginia in another semifinal. The previously mentioned 2013 ACC Semifinal game was against the Fighting Irish, which the Cavaliers advanced on penalty kicks 4-3, after a 3-3 draw in regulation. The two teams have met three other times in the postseason in the last four years.

Five of Virginia’s players looked to prove why they were awarded All-ACC team selections, with junior midfielder Jean-Christophe Koffi holding First Team honors and senior goalkeeper Jeff Caldwell and junior forward Edward Opoku receiving Second Team nods.

The team was ready to achieve its lofty goals, with preseason expectations as high as any program in the country.

“Right now it just feels like there’s not a team, not a place in the country we feel like we can’t go into and get a result,” Caldwell said.

After 10 minutes of action, neither team gave up an inch as both goalkeepers commanded their back lines to precision. The Wednesday night contest was cold and misty, and everyone was hustling to every ball, swarming on defense to get in front of shots.

By the 15th minute, Virginia was content to try and methodically work the ball up the field, working it from side to side looking for any crease.

The Cavaliers finally broke through in the 38th minute as sophomore midfielder Robin Afamefuna crushed a shot into the bottom left corner past the arms of the outstretched Fighting Irish keeper, giving the ACC Championship hopefuls a 1-0 lead.

Notre Dame did not take long into the second half to net the equalizer, scoring in the 49th minute past the arms of Caldwell. The Fighting Irish tied the game up in a similar fashion in the regular season meeting, scoring seven instead of four minutes into the second half.

Virginia would not be denied what seemed their right to move on to the ACC Championship matchup, as freshman forward Joe Bell scored in the 54th minute off the assist from Opoku to give the team another lead at 2-1. 

“I think it started with the Duke game, losing the last regular season Duke game, when we knew what that meant to win against a top seed at home,” Coach George Gelnovatch said. “We played well and we were dominant, but we just weren’t ruthless, and we’ve been ruthless since then.”

The team showed incredible resilience to bounce back so quickly from the heart-breaking Notre Dame goal to open the half. Virginia smelled blood after its second goal and quickly made up for its first half shot deficit, attacking the Fighting Irish defense at will.

“As the game got into the second half, they scored very early and our response was fantastic,” Gelnovatch said. “That’s the response you want, especially this time of year.”

Caldwell was tested numerous times in the remaining period, but Virginia was able to control the ball in the final 10 minutes and move on to the ACC Championship Final with the 2-1 victory.

The keeper was elated with his chances at returning to the ACC championship Final.

“This is obviously my second opportunity to be in a championship position, my first opportunity being on the field doing it,” Caldwell said. “It feels wonderful. You come to a school like Virginia for the opportunity to win championships and here we are.”

Gelnovatch was also excited about the future prospects of the team in their postseason play.

“We just won three big ACC games in a row right, and have scored six goals,” Gelnovatch said. “And we’re defending pretty well I think, too ... We are in a good place.”

Virginia heads to the ACC Championship Final, which takes place Sunday in Charleston, S.C. 

Correction: U.Va.'s and Notre Dame's conference records have been corrected. 

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