With over a week to prepare after their first draw of the season against No. 3 Duke, the Cavaliers (7-4-1, 3-1-1 ACC) are fired up and ready to defeat ACC foe No. 18 Clemson in a road game Saturday evening. While the takeaways from the contest against the Blue Devils were mostly positive for Virginia, as it created more chances down the field and facilitated more shots on goal than its opponent, this near-miss win will surely serve as the fuel for an exciting and hard-fought game Saturday.
The Cavaliers will have to play at the top of their game if they hope to pull out a win. This season, the Tigers (8-3-1, 2-2-1 ACC) fell to No. 10 — formerly No.1 — Wake Forest and No. 3 Syracuse, but they have defeated sizable opponents such as North Carolina, who currently sits right below Virginia in the ACC Coastal division rankings. And with their most recent loss to UNC Greensboro Tuesday, the Tigers will be eager to hand the Cavaliers a loss.
Virginia will need to kick start its offense Saturday after a pair of scoreless games last week against Duke and Denver. All eyes will be on junior forward Leo Afonso, who had numerous breakaways and scoring opportunities down the field against the Blue Devils but was unable to capitalize. After outshooting Duke by a margin of 12-10 and 6-3 in the second half, it will be critical for the Cavaliers to sustain a concerted offensive effort and deliver on-target shots.
The other main contributor to Virginia’s offensive effort Friday night was junior forward Philip Horton. Horton has been prolific on offense this season and poses a major threat to any defensive line. With his unforgettable five-point performance against then-No. 10 Pittsburgh and subsequent National Player of the Week honor still fresh in mind, a game of that caliber from Horton would surely contribute to a positive result for the Cavaliers this Saturday.
Virginia’s midfield and backline have also been doing tremendous work, boasting three clean sheets in five matches and six over the course of the season. Coming off a number of heroic saves against the Blue Devils, junior goalkeeper Holden Brown has stood tall in the net and been a source of constancy for the Cavaliers.
For Clemson, junior midfielder Ousmane Sylla has been the standout. He has led the way for the Tigers, scoring five goals and notching five assists in just 10 matches. Sylla is also currently ranked No. 1 in the ACC for total points per game with 1.5.
Sylla is joined by senior forward Mohamed Seye, a strategic orchestrator of offensive attacks. Seye has assisted three of Sylla’s goals and has contributed two goals of his own, bringing his point total to 10 this season. Seye is tied for the conference lead in assists and is a powerful offensive weapon for the Tigers.
With home-field advantage, Clemson will be tough to beat. Since Coach Mike Noonan took over the program in 2010, the Tigers have sustained an impressive 97-32-15 record at home. In 2021, Clemson ranked second nationally in cumulative attendance and fourth in attendance per game — both the highest in the ACC. The Cavaliers will have to maintain their composure and quality of play if they hope to pull out a win on the road this Saturday evening.
Clemson will host the Cavaliers Saturday at Historic Riggs Field. Kickoff is set for 5:30 p.m. with the match slated to stream on ACCNX.