Virginia men’s soccer will square off against No. 2 Duke Friday in an exciting ACC clash at Klöckner Stadium in Charlottesville.
Coming off a tough home loss against No. 10 Denver in which the game’s only goal came from a penalty kick, the Cavaliers (7-4-0, 3-1 ACC) are hungry for a win. A showdown against a highly-ranked conference rival will provide any extra motivation Virginia lacks, and the Cavaliers should feel optimistic about their chances to defeat the Blue Devils (8-0-2, 3-0-1 ACC).
However, it will not be an easy task by any stretch. Hot off of a 2-0 win against Howard Tuesday night, and still very much riding the high from their 3-2 win against then-No. 1 Wake Forest, Duke has maintained an impressive 10-game streak without a loss. Deemed the nation’s second-best collegiate men’s soccer team in a United Soccer Coaches poll released Tuesday, the Blue Devils will be aware of the newly-found target on its backs.
Virginia will be the first side to take aim, and it will need to get back on track in the frontlines after being shut out in its previous match for the first time since Aug. 25 against Xavier. There’s no doubt the Cavaliers are capable, having scored the second most goals in the ACC to this point thanks in large part to a three-man band up top.
Junior forward Leo Afonso is the headliner, leading the ACC in both shots and shots on target while registering the fourth-most goals in the conference this season. His five goals and two assists are each tied for the Cavaliers’ team lead, and following two consecutive games without a goal, Afonso will be hungry to get on the scoresheet Friday.
Sophomore forward Kome Ubogu has also proved to be a lethal threat in front of goal, finding the net five times with just 12 attempts on target. Finally, junior forward Philip Horton rounds out a dangerous frontline for Virginia. Horton recently scored two goals and added an assist in the Cavaliers’ 3-1 upset victory over then-No. 10 Pittsburgh. His efforts earned him National Player of the Week honors from both Top Drawer Soccer and College Soccer News.
Virginia’s midfield has been important on both ends of the pitch this season, as four different Cavalier midfielders have totaled at least three points so far. Junior midfielder Daniel Mangarov stands out among the bunch, as the junior currently sits fourth on the team in points and goals while holding a tie for the team high in assists.
In defense, Virginia has been solid throughout the majority of its fixtures this season. With the exception of a six-goal shocker against Maryland on Sept. 5, the Cavaliers have only allowed a total of seven goals across their other 10 games. Junior defender Andreas Ueland has been the key cog, earning ACC Defensive Player of the Week Sept. 27 following a pair of clean sheets against American and Syracuse.
For Duke, it will primarily be sophomore forward Shakur Mohammed who looks to break down the Virginia backline. Mohammed is pacing the Blue Devils in points, goals, shots and shots on target through their opening 10 games, and his three game-winning goals tie him for first in the ACC with Afonso.
No player in the ACC has collected more assists than junior midfielder Nick Pariano, who has been nothing short of a maestro for Duke this season. If the Cavaliers want to add another clean sheet to their name, they must contain Pariano — a task many other teams have attempted and failed.
Although the Blue Devils have a couple of stars further up the field, it’s been the defense that has catapulted them to their No. 2 ranking. Duke has conceded just five goals this season, tied for the fewest in the ACC. Graduate student goalkeeper Eliot Hamill is the recipe for the Blue Devils’ success, having saved 34 shots on his way to an impressive .872 save percentage.
Needless to say, Virginia has their work cut out for them. Horton, Afonso and Ubogu will be crucial in securing a victory for the Cavaliers, and they will need to find their way through a picky defense to accomplish that. Junior goalkeeper Holden Brown will also be of critical importance, as there’s no doubt he’ll need to be active in order to keep out a strong Duke attack.
All in all, fans should expect a relatively cagey match on Friday. Both teams place in the top five in the conference in yellow cards, and each have put their defensive prowess on full display during this campaign. That’s not to say their respective attacks aren’t impressive, but it would be a surprise if this contest turns into a shootout.
The game is set to kick-off at 7 p.m. Friday at Klöckner Stadium and will be streamed live on ACC Network Extra.