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No. 13 men’s soccer ties No. 5 UNC

Cavaliers close regular season with ACC clash

<p>Sophomore goalkeeper Jeff Caldwell posted a clean sheet agains the fifth-ranked Tar Heels.&nbsp;</p>

Sophomore goalkeeper Jeff Caldwell posted a clean sheet agains the fifth-ranked Tar Heels. 

In what amounted to a win or go on the road game for the 13th-ranked Cavaliers, the resilient men’s soccer team battled under the lights on senior night against one the top two ACC teams, and one of the best in the country.

The fifth-ranked Tar Heels (14-1-2, 6-1-1 ACC) utilized a high line throughout, harassing the Virginia (9-3-3, 4-2-2 ACC) defense and keeping the Klöckner stadium crowd on its toes during numerous tense moments. Although up a man for the final 13 minutes of overtime, the Cavaliers could not capitalize, and the game finished a 0-0 draw.

“The timing of this game is very good for us,” coach George Gelnovatch said, “North Carolina is a very good team, a College Cup caliber team I think, so for us to play this game this late in the season rather than earlier on in the ACC really gets us ready for teams we’re going to have to deal with to win championships.”

Coming into Friday’s season finale, Virginia was fourth in the ACC standings, tentatively hosting a quarterfinal ACC tournament matchup, which, in the new format, is imperative. Sitting at 13 points, the Cavaliers’ favorable postseason seeding was fragile, and after the game, Gelnovatch spoke candidly about the Cavaliers’ precarious postseason positioning.

“We’re counting on probably having to go to Notre Dame,” Gelnovatch said. “But who knows, we’re optimistic.”

If the Cavaliers loss or tied, they would have, at most, 14 points to finish off the season. Going into the season’s final weekend the 14th-ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish was in fifth in the ACC at 11 points, awaiting a Saturday night matchup against Pittsburgh. With an almost certain win at home, Notre Dame forced Virginia to win if it wanted to play in front of the Klöckner faithful again in 2015.

“Probably one of the last home games for us,” senior defender Marcus Salandy-Defour said. “It felt really good to have the fans here, have my parents here, it was nice.”

In the first half, the Tar Heels were able to control play—forcing sophomore goalkeeper Jeff Caldwell into two saves—but couldn’t convert to go ahead.

“Jeff made a few good saves, but it really helps when the defense in front of him plays really well,” senior midfielder Todd Wharton said. “They were really organized and I don’t think they gave up any clear chances.”

The Virginia defense was impressively able to subdue the Carolina offense, which ranks second in the ACC with 2.25 goals scored per game. However, in the 20th minute, the stout back four lost redshirt sophomore defender Sheldon Sullivan to a groin injury, an unfortunate event that left the Cavaliers without their workhorse defender for the first time all season—Sullivan has played all 1300 possible minutes up to this point.

In his place stepped sophomore defender Nate Oduste, who had played just 10 minutes before Friday’s match, and worked well with fellow central defender redshirt sophomore Wesley Suggs in keeping the dynamic Tar Heels attack at bay.

“Nate might have been the man of the match when he came in the game,” Wharton said. “Just the way he was clearing balls, breaking up plays, but that’s just shows how our team works. We have a great reserve team and they’re ready whenever called on.”

While the defense looked as it has all season, the offense struggled to get anything going, as freshman forward Edward Opoku was frequently called for fouls in his matchup with Tar Heels senior defender Jonathan Campbell.

“I don’t like any ref, I never agree with anything they do,” Wharton said. “It’s tough because Eddy’s a little handsy up there, it’s what he’s got to do because he’s so small but he’s battling hard.”

After a rather dull second half, the game went to overtime, with both top-25 teams looking to find something to break the stalemate. Seven minutes into the first extra period, Carolina sophomore forward Alan Winn was on the break and collided with the charging Caldwell, his foot making contact with the defenseless keeper’s head. Although warranting Oscar consideration for the subsequent flop, Winn was issued a red card, giving Virginia a man-up advantage for the remainder of the first overtime and all of the second.

“I could see right away that 18 left his leg in and got Jeff in the head,” Gelnovatch said. “I could see him [looking disoriented] for a second. I think they got themselves re-organized for playing down a man [in the second overtime] and that made it more tough on us.”

Although needing a win to secure at least one postseason home game, the Cavaliers played a rather conservative, even pedestrian, extra 20 minutes, and couldn’t break the 0-0 stalemate, finishing the season at 9-3-3.