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No. 19 Virginia bounces back, beats Pitt

Freshmen forwards pace men’s soccer in 3-1 victory

<p>Freshman forward Edward Opoku scored a goal and added an assist against Pittsburgh. </p>

Freshman forward Edward Opoku scored a goal and added an assist against Pittsburgh. 

If No.19 ranked Virginia Cavaliers men’s soccer team were looking to respond following their two losses last week, Friday night’s matchup against Pittsburgh was the perfect arena. Needing a win to spurn a deep postseason run, the Cavaliers met the challenge, looking like the defending College Cup champions that they are.

Virginia (8-3-2, 3-2-1 ACC) dominated play throughout, but was playing from behind from 30 minutes on against a Pittsburgh (5-6-3, 0-5-1 ACC) team that was coming off a 1-0 loss to Cleveland State. The effort eventually paid off — behind the play of freshman forwards Edward Opoku and Wesley Wade — in the form of 3 goals as the Cavaliers beat the Panthers, 3-1.

“I think we created the chances in the first half but on a better night this is 5-1 or 6-1,” coach George Gelnovatch said. “I think we needed that goal and the sooner we got it—we just needed to get one—and once we did we would get a second one and a third one.”

In the 16th minute, the Panthers — who are tied for last in the ACC Coastal Division — went ahead when freshman defender Matt Bragg came free alone in the box and fired a shot past the charging sophomore goalkeeper Jeff Caldwell for his first career goal.

“I [didn’t think] much [of it], to be honest,” Gelnovatch said, “I felt like we still had the game, especially with the chances we were getting. We just needed to score one goal.”

Following this seemingly characteristic slow start, the Cavaliers peppered the Panthers with seven shots, forcing senior goalkeeper Dan Lynd to make four saves. Although tested in the 19th minute, no saves were more impressive than his two in the final five minutes of the first period.

First, in the 41st minute, when he went fully airborne to block junior defender Patrick Foss’ header and then again, just seconds later, when his sliding effort kept the Panthers’ lead intact in the face of an Opoku one-on-one opportunity on the left side of the box.

“I think he had an outstanding half,” Gelnovatch said, “he made a great play on that breakaway with Nicko, and he did a good job. We just needed to be more clinical with our finishing and like I said, on a better night, it’s 5-1.”

Just after halftime, the hungry Cavaliers side immediately put its stamp on the game. After an interception in the midfield, freshman midfielder Derrick Etienne found Opoku on an ambitious through ball, setting the Rye, N.Y. product up to single-handedly weave through the Pittsburgh defense and around the goalkeeper to tie the game. The goal was his second of the season and incited a massive roar from the crowd that fondly refers to him as “Speedy.”

“I’ve had a couple of those whether I’m not sure whether the linesman is going to call offsides or not so I was actually waiting for the call because they always seem to call it,” Opoku said, “I was nervous…but coach just told me that he trusted me and to be patient and that’s what helped me to score that goal.”

Opoku made an impact once again, in the 62nd minute, when he fired a shot in front of net that would have been saved if not for freshman forward Wesley Wade’s sliding effort to deflect the ball past Lynd and into the net for his first career goal, putting the Cavaliers ahead 2-1.

“He played a good one-two with Derrick,” Wade said. “He was just doing what we’ve been doing with each other all our lives, it was a great through ball to Edward and I was able to finish it off.”

In the 75th minute, redshirt junior defender Marcus Salandy-Defour — who is a forward by trade — sliced and diced his way through the defense to the end line on the right side of the box, at which point he fired a low cross into the danger zone. Wade — who had played just 17 minutes prior to Friday’s contest — once again slid in to redirect the cross into the goal, securing his second career Cavaliers goal.

“Wesley Wade, typical…center forward, getting on the end of things in the box, sliding in and then tussling with the goalkeeper,” Gelnovatch said, “he probably got himself more playing minutes going forward.”

Following Virginia’s frustrating defeat at the hands of the American Eagles Tuesday, Gelnovatch and senior midfielder and captain Todd Wharton commented that they hoped the loss would be a kick in the rear and a wakeup call for the team leading into the stretch run. If the second half was any indication, the players got the message and are primed for a dynamic postseason run.

“We’ve got to get through the weekend,” Gelnovatch said. “If you put yourself in the top six you don’t play the first round of the ACC tournament. And if you can push yourself to that top four, which we can do, then you’re in really good shape possibly being at home through the semis.”

The Cavaliers, who were slotted for two games a week for six straight weeks — before Hurricane Joaquin forced the cancellation of the George Washington game — have a week off before traveling to Blacksburg to play Virginia Tech in the 2015 men’s soccer iteration of the Commonwealth Clash between the central Virginia rivals.