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Men’s soccer bounces back to beat George Mason 1-0

Cavaliers pick up second win of the season behind another defensively sound performance

<p>Senior forward Leo Afonso provided the assist for the Cavaliers' only goal Thursday</p>

Senior forward Leo Afonso provided the assist for the Cavaliers' only goal Thursday

Virginia men’s soccer met George Mason for the 31st time in program history Thursday, hosting their in-state rivals at Klöckner Stadium for the first time since 2021. In a match that was close throughout, a first-half goal from freshman forward Stephen Annor Gyamfi was enough to lift the Cavaliers (2-1, 0-0 ACC) to a 1-0 victory over the Patriots (0-2, 0-0 Atlantic 10). 

Following the shocking 3-1 defeat Virginia took to Loyola Marymount Sunday, Coach George Gelnovatch was relieved to see the defensive effort he has come to know from his backline.

“[George Mason] didn’t have a dangerous chance – not one,” Gelnovatch said. “That’s a good thing. I think we controlled the game.”

Senior goalkeeper Holden Brown, senior defender William Citron, senior midfielder Axel Ahlander and junior defender Paul Wiese all entered the starting lineup for Virginia after turns on the bench last time out. Gelnovatch’s changes at the back evidently worked wonders for the hosts, who held their opponents to just two shots on target for the game. 

Despite the new life brought to the Cavaliers’ side, the Patriots looked the stronger team out of the gates. George Mason mounted multiple strong attacks in the game’s opening passages, culminating in the game’s first shot from junior midfielder Zach Golden in the ninth minute. Thankfully for Virginia, the outside-the-box strike landed safely in the hands of Brown and kept the game scoreless.

Soon enough, Virginia settled into the match and began to show why they were so highly-touted to begin the season. A few decent chances came and went for the Cavaliers as the first half ticked beyond 20 minutes, but none more potent than an attack that culminated with Gyamfi in the 24th minute. 

After senior midfielder Mouhameth Thiam used an impressive burst of pace to get by his defender in the midfield, he connected with senior forward Leo Afonso, who was making a darting run toward the endline. Afonso collected Thiam’s pass and quickly played the ball into the middle of the box, where a deflection took it right into the path of an eager Gyamfi. 

Barely even taking the time to look up, the freshman curled a shot into the far right corner that graduate student goalkeeper Jaume Salvado had little chance of stopping. The goal represented Gyamfi’s first for Virginia, but more importantly, put the Cavaliers in front 1-0. 

“We seem to get in that little pocket a lot, where that goal came from,” Gelnovatch said. “[Gyamfi] was in a good spot where he was supposed to be, and a good technical side-foot finish.”

Things went from bad to worse for a struggling George Mason in the 35th minute, as a violent challenge from Golden on Gyamfi was punished with a red card. The Patriots were forced to play the remaining hour-plus with just 10 players.

George Mason withstood the final 10 minutes of the first half with the numbers disadvantage, but the Cavaliers still had plenty of time to add to their lead after the break. With a goal up and a man up, Virginia was in a good position entering the final 45 minutes.

The early moments of the second half brought along an unsurprising dynamic to the game. The Cavaliers were in control of possession and creating far more dangerous chances than the Patriots, who were finding it difficult to get the ball out of their own half.

Virginia’s efforts amounted to a 47th-minute free-kick opportunity for senior midfielder Daniel Mangarov and multiple noteworthy cross attempts from the likes of sophomore midfielder Umberto Pela and sophomore forward Triton Beauvois. Unfortunately for the Cavaliers, Mangarov sent his set piece over the goalpost, and no Virginia player could get on the end of either cross. 

Keeping the Cavaliers on the front foot, Beauvois continued to push for the second goal that would silence any remaining doubts about the game’s outcome. The sophomore created two good opportunities for himself within two minutes, rocketing his first attempt off the hands of Salvado and sending his second just wide of the left goalpost.

Virginia earned a corner kick in the 69th minute which they chose to play short, a decision that allowed sophomore defender Reese Miller plenty of room to shoot when he received the ball at the top of the box. Miller’s swerving shot gave Salvado problems, but George Mason’s keeper did just enough to parry it away and keep the Cavaliers from doubling their advantage. 

That was the last notable attacking action from either team, as Virginia had no problems dealing with the Patriots’ last grasps to find an equalizer. The clock eventually bled out on George Mason, finally allowing a ruckus Klöckner crowd to erupt in celebration. 

While there is much to be happy about for the Cavaliers, their inability to convert goalscoring opportunities continues to loom. Virginia has managed just three goals from 21 shots on target this season and has yet to score multiple goals in a game.

“We created enough chances to get the second goal,” Gelnovatch said. “We just didn’t put it away. I think, right now, that’s what we need to be a little bit better at.”

As the season crawls on and the competition gets fiercer, the Cavaliers will have to become more clinical in front of goal. Games like this one allow Virginia to escape unscathed without addressing that problem, but a date with No. 20 Maryland – the toughest team on the Cavaliers’ schedule to date — looms Monday. The Terrapins put six goals past Virginia last season, and while there’s little chance they’ll be able to repeat that level of success in Charlottesville, the Cavaliers must make use of their opportunities in the attacking third in order to get a result.

Kick-off is set for 7 p.m. Monday, and the game will be streamed on ACC Network.