No. 14 Virginia and No. 24 Pittsburgh squared off in the ACC quarterfinal on a rainy Sunday afternoon at Klöckner Stadium, battling for a spot in the ACC semifinals later this week with a first-half Cavalier (10-4-3, 5-1-2 ACC) goal proving to be the difference in a narrow Virginia victory.
The two teams met previously in Pittsburgh, when the Cavaliers knocked off the Panthers (8-4-5, 3-2-3 ACC) Sept. 30 with a 3-1 win. With a bid to the ACC Tournament Semifinals on the line, the two teams were set for a top-25 matchup in Charlottesville.
Weather definitely was a factor in the game as it had been raining on and off in Charlottesville all morning and early afternoon, and it began to rain as the game got underway. The wet conditions made the ball skip across the grass much quicker, causing more turnovers from both sides.
Pittsburgh started the game controlling much of the ball as the Cavaliers tried to keep it out of their half. Senior defender Andreas Ueland was a strong defensive presence early, repeatedly stopping Panther attacks around Virginia’s box.
A great chance for Pittsburgh came in the 13th minute when junior forward Bertin Jacquesson played a ball into senior midfielder Valentin Noel, who was wide open near the six yard line. However, his shot was ultimately an easy save for junior goalkeeper Holden Brown.
Right after, Virginia countered and junior forward Leo Afonso won a corner kick. Senior midfielder Jeremy Verley played it in, forcing Pittsburgh senior goalkeeper Joe van der Sar to just tip the ball over the crossbar. On the ensuing corner, junior midfielder Daniel Mangarov took it and found Afonso, whose header sailed just above the goal.
The Cavaliers broke the deadlock in the 21st minute when Mangarov drove through the middle of the field and played a ball towards Afonso. Afonso just barely tapped the ball along to freshman defender Reese Miller, who fired the ball into the back left corner of the net with his left foot, making it 1-0 Virginia.
Jacquesson was inches from tying the game in the 31st minute, as he unleashed a strike from around 20 yards out that hit the top of the crossbar in the far left corner of the frame of the goal. The ball bounced back into play and was eventually cleared out by junior defender Aidan O’Connor.
Jacquesson caused problems for the Virginia defense for most of the first half and seemed poised to tie the game with his play until he was substituted off with around 10 minutes left in the half.
While the Cavaliers took the one-goal lead into the half, the Panthers certainly had offensive momentum heading into the second half as they largely dominated the last 15 minutes of the opening frame.
As the second half got underway, Pittsburgh carried over its strong possession and presence in the Virginia defensive third, eager to get an equalizer.
In just the 48th minute, graduate student midfielder Rodrigo Almeida drove in for Pittsburgh and played a ball across the box which Brown intelligently palmed to the side, before being cleared away for a corner by O’Connor.
Virginia managed to handle possession well and the back-and-forth throughout the middle of the field continued into the last 20 minutes of the half as the Cavaliers fought to double their lead while the Panthers looked to tie the game up.
In the 68th minute, the Panthers were nearly able to tie the game up. Both Almeida and graduate student defender Lucas Rosa fired shots at Brown who was able to block both of them, with Almeida from the center and Rosa from the right side after Brown’s initial save.
The chance seemingly sparked life into the game as Pittsburgh’s intensity picked up, but Brown continued his career day in net.
The Pittsburgh pressure ramped up around the 75th minute with its ACC title hopes dwindling. However, Virginia refused to sit on its heels and invite the Panthers into its defensive third. Afonso had a great chance after sophomore defender Paul Wiese won a header that put him through on goal down the right side of the field, but the ball got away from him and his shot went well wide of the goal.
The Panthers’ last chance came in the 89th minute when Jacquesson got the ball off of an errant deflection from O’Connor. Brown read the ball well and controlled it after it took a dangerous bounce just before it reached him.
Overall, the Panthers outshot the Cavaliers 13-8, with nine shots on goal to the Cavaliers’ four — but Brown’s nine saves were the difference maker. The win was Virginia’s fifth over a top-25 opponent this season.
Coach George Gelnovatch emphasized how strong of a win this was, especially given that Virginia had already played them this year and won.
“Pitt is a really good team, and very tough to beat once, let alone twice in a season,” Gelnovatch said. “We did a great job tonight using what we know about them to our advantage and get a win and move on.”
The Cavaliers will face off against second-seeded and nationally ranked No.4 Syracuse in the semifinal Wednesday. As Syracuse is the higher seed, Virginia will travel to New York for the second time this season. The first time these two played at Syracuse, the Cavaliers sprung the upset over the then-No. 3 Orange with a 1-0 win. The game will be streamed on ACC Network and kick off is set for 5 p.m.