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Men’s soccer earns deserved 3-0 victory over James Madison

The Cavaliers thoroughly outplayed the Dukes on their way to a second consecutive triumph

<p>Junior forward Leo Afonso celebrates after opening the scoring Thursday night with a brilliant strike just inside the 18-yard box.</p>

Junior forward Leo Afonso celebrates after opening the scoring Thursday night with a brilliant strike just inside the 18-yard box.

Revenge was on the mind of Virginia men’s soccer on Thursday night, as the Cavaliers (2-1, 0-0 ACC) squared off against in-state rival James Madison (1-2, 0-0 Sun Belt) in the third non-conference affair of each team’s young season. Virginia’s 20-game unbeaten streak against the Dukes came to a close last season when James Madison upset the Cavaliers in a nail-biting 1-0 double overtime victory, but in a convincing performance Thursday, Virginia made sure lightning didn’t strike twice. 

The Cavaliers opened in a 3-4-3 formation, making only one change from the starting lineup used in their 4-0 victory over Rider on Monday. Implementing a high-pressure style early on, Virginia got on the front foot behind a pair of fouls within the game’s opening two minutes. 

The Cavaliers continued making inroads throughout the contest’s next few minutes, peaking when junior midfielder Daniel Mangarov played an incisive through ball into the box for freshman defender Reese Miller. It was just the goalie to beat for Miller, but the freshman sliced his shot just wide of the left post. Nonetheless, warning signs flashed for the Dukes.

That was made evident when Miller was provided with another chance just three minutes later. Sophomore defender Paul Wiese sent in a dangerous cross to Miller in the middle of the 18-yard box, who forced a lively save from James Madison freshman goalkeeper Sebastian Conlon. 

Virginia’s efforts finally showed up on the scoreboard in the 17th minute by the product of junior forward Leo Afonso. Afonso won possession from James Madison senior defender Tyler Clegg high up the pitch, sprinting into the box and firing a shot from just inside 18 yards. Purple and gray jerseys alike could only watch as the ball sailed past Conlon and into the net, giving the Cavaliers a 1-0 lead. Afonso’s goal gave him two on the season.

“That first goal was world class,” Coach George Genolvatch said. “Really, really, really world class.”

The fixture’s next 20 minutes played out relatively cagey, with neither team putting together a chance dangerous enough to worry the opposing defense. Virginia came close to doubling the Dukes’ deficit in the 39th minute, as Miller galloped into the box and received the ball with bundles of space just a few yards out. Unfortunately, the freshman lost his footing just as he turned to shoot, sullying the chance for the Cavaliers. 

As the first period wound down, freshman forward Andy Sullins came inches away from scoring the first goal of his collegiate career. Sullins tried a last-gasp effort from outside the box that whispered just wide of the right post, clattering into the side netting. That would put a cap on a first half that saw James Madison fail to muster a shot, marking the third consecutive game Virginia has held their opponent without a shot in the first period of play. 

The Dukes looked livelier to open up the second half, as fancy footwork in the box by James Madison sophomore defender Josiah Blanton led to a shot that blazed just right of junior goalkeeper Holden Brown. The Cavaliers didn’t wait long to counter, coming right back with an attack of their own in the 52nd minute. Afonso was at the center, legging his way into a dangerous area before letting loose on a shot that was parried by Conlon, his third save of the game.

In the 65th minute, freshman midfielder Albin Gashi introduced himself to the contest, and the scoresheet, in grand fashion. Gashi received the ball outside the box from graduate student defender Moritz Kappelsberger and wasted no time getting his shot away, sending a blistering strike beyond Conlon to give Virginia a two-goal advantage. It was the first goal of Gashi’s college career and Kappelsberger’s first assist for the Cavaliers, coming just a game after the defender registered his first goal for the program.

“We still need to get [Gashi] fitter because he’s been injured, so he’s not ready to play 90 minutes,” Gelnovatch said. “But I think as we get him fitter and keep him healthy, you’re going to see some pretty cool things from him.”

Virginia continued to threaten the Dukes in the next passages, this time through Horton, who dribbled around Conlon and rolled a shot towards the net that was cleared off the line by James Madison. 

As the clock ticked towards 77 minutes, Horton put an end to any doubt about the game’s outcome. The junior picked up the pieces from an unsuccessful dribble and found himself one-on-one with Conlon, who he calmly slotted a right-footed shot past to push Virginia’s lead to 3-0. 

“I’m glad to be out here and glad to contribute. I’m happy to score my first season goal, and I’m hoping for more,” said Horton.

The Dukes picked up their first shot on target in the 80th minute from sophomore midfielder Ethan Taylor’s free kick try, but the attempt never worried Brown, who shifted a few feet to the left and collected the ball. 

The game’s final 10 minutes were played without much action, as both teams settled for the result on the scoreboard as the clock ticked towards zero. The referee’s final whistle prompted loud cheers for an impressive display from the Cavaliers.

The victory was Virginia’s eighth in nine games against James Madison at Klöckner Stadium. More importantly, the Cavaliers triumphed over a team who defeated them last season, and it’s certain they didn’t forget about the significance of this win.

“They nicked us last year, so it’s good to smack them up a little bit — feels good,” Horton said.

Virginia is back in action Monday for a matchup against Maryland at Audi Field in Washington, D.C. The fixture is set to kick off at 6 p.m.