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No. 24 Virginia men’s soccer topples No. 25 Wake Forest 1-0

The Cavaliers shut down the Demon Deacons in their final home game of the regular season

<p>Junior forward Leo Afonso delivered the game-winning goal in the 63rd minute for the Cavaliers Saturday night.</p>

Junior forward Leo Afonso delivered the game-winning goal in the 63rd minute for the Cavaliers Saturday night.

In the final regular season fixture at Klöckner Stadium in 2022, No. 24 Virginia men’s soccer picked up a 1-0 victory over No. 25 Wake Forest Saturday night. The clean sheet for the Cavaliers (9-4-2, 5-1-1 ACC) marked their seventh of the campaign, and just the second time all season the Demon Deacons (12-4, 4-3 ACC) had been shut out.

Virginia remained in its typical 3-5-2 formation to begin the game, making three changes from its 1-1 draw against Hofstra on Tuesday. Junior defender Aidan O’Connor, junior forward Leo Afonso and freshman defender Reese Miller received starts after coming on as substitutes earlier in the week.

Afonso wasted no time getting to work, picking up the ball on the left side and running through on goal in the third minute. He worked himself one-on-one with Wake Forest sophomore goalkeeper Trace Alphin, but Afonso’s shot fell straight into Alphin’s hands. 

As the Demon Deacons grew into the game, Virginia freshman midfielder Albin Gashi was forced to give away a foul just outside the 18-yard box in the fifth minute. Wake Forest sophomore midfielder Ryan Fessler stood over the set piece and blasted a brilliant effort off the left goalpost, sending warning signs flashing for the Cavaliers.

Pressure continued to mount on Virginia as play ensued. Senior defender Andreas Ueland made a phenomenal sliding tackle to halt a Demon Deacons’ counter, and graduate student defender Moritz Kappelsberger came up big for the Cavaliers with an important block in the 14th minute to keep out an ever more dangerous-looking Wake Forest. 

Virginia mounted a head of steam in the game’s next passage, keeping any Demon Deacons’ attacks quiet while building more of its own. However, the decisiveness in the final third was lacking in the end, and the first half entered its final 15 minutes without a goal as a result. 

In the 33rd minute, junior midfielder Daniel Mangarov used some fancy footwork to win a free kick in a dangerous attacking area, but his set piece failed to provide an encore. The Cavaliers won another free kick minutes later, but Mangarov’s second attempt led to a similar outcome as his first. 

The remainder of the first half was played without much action, with only a Virginia corner kick providing excitement. The two teams headed for the break scoreless, having combined for just one shot on target in the first period of play. 

As the second half kicked off, the Cavaliers controlled possession. Junior forward Philip Horton got his head on a nice cross from Gashi in the 48th minute, but his attempt glanced well wide of the right woodwork. 

That was the most notable piece of play in the second period’s opening 10 minutes. Wake Forest sophomore forward Babacar Niang fashioned himself a shooting opportunity from 15 yards out in the 54th minute, but it was an easy save for junior goalkeeper Holden Brown.

The Cavaliers found their breakthrough in the 63rd minute. Horton picked up the ball near midfield and dazzled multiple Demon Deacons’ defenders on his way towards goal. He slotted a beautiful through ball into the box for Afonso, who calmly slotted the ball home to put Virginia in front. The goal was Afonso’s sixth of the season, tying him for the team lead with freshman forward Kome Ubogu.

“It was a whole team effort, I wouldn’t take credit for it myself,” said Afonso. “The ball from Phil was amazing, so it made my job easy.”

Wake Forest nearly found an immediate equalizer through junior midfielder Colin Thomas in the 64th minute, but Thomas’ attempt from inside 10 yards missed high. The Cavaliers countered with an attack of their own in the 69th minute, culminating in a corner kick that junior midfielder Axel Ahlander ultimately sent straight at Alphin.

Virginia kept the Demon Deacons at bay for the next several minutes, holding much of the possession while pushing for a second goal to seal the game. 

As the game entered its final five minutes, Wake Forest’s struggles to break down the Cavaliers’ backline continued. It hadn’t mustered a shot on target in the second half until a free kick in the 87th minute was sent straight at Brown for a simple stop.

That was the last true chance the Demon Deacons could muster, as the seconds ticked down and the buzzer sounded to cap an extremely impressive victory for Virginia. 

“We played hard, played well and got the win,” said Coach George Gelnovatch. “These guys deserve all the points that they’ve earned in the ACC.”

The win was the Cavaliers’ fourth of the season over a ranked opponent in just seven such games, and it snapped a three-game streak without a victory at Klöckner Stadium. Virginia now sits atop the ACC Coastal standings with just one final test remaining in the regular season. 

That test will come against North Carolina Friday in Chapel Hill, N.C., with the game set to kickoff at 7 p.m.