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Men’s soccer upsets No. 11 Pittsburgh 2-1

The Cavaliers conceded first but battled back to defeat the Panthers

<p>Senior defender Will Citron helped the Cavaliers keep the Panthers' dangerous attack quiet Friday</p>

Senior defender Will Citron helped the Cavaliers keep the Panthers' dangerous attack quiet Friday

Virginia men’s soccer put its season-best four-match unbeaten streak on the line Friday night in Charlottesville, going toe-to-toe with Pittsburgh at Klöckner Stadium. The Cavaliers (7-3-3-, 3-2-1 ACC) pushed that streak to five, using a pair of first-half goals to stun the No. 11 Panthers (5-4-3, 2-2-2 ACC) 2-1 and earn their third consecutive win against Pittsburgh. 

Virginia conceded the opening goal for the third game running Friday, but Coach George Gelnovatch was encouraged by his team’s resolve to fight back for the victory.

“For the past three games we’ve been scored on first, and today we won after tying the two games before,” Gelnovatch said. “I thought it was a really good effort from our guys to get the win tonight instead of the tie.”

The match kicked off in the worst fashion imaginable for Virginia, who found itself down a goal within the opening 10 minutes. The Cavaliers struggled to find their footing in the midfield, uncharacteristically losing possession several times before eventually paying the ultimate price in the 9th minute.

After winning the ball high up the pitch, Pittsburgh used quick passing to work itself into Virginia’s box. It looked like the Cavaliers had dealt with the danger, but a wayward back pass from junior defender Austin Rome landed at the feet of Panthers freshman forward Albert Thorsen. Standing just a few yards from the goal, Thorsen calmly slotted the ball into an empty net to put Pittsburgh in front 1-0. 

Despite the rough start, Virginia got back on level terms within just 10 minutes of conceding. The Cavaliers applied pressure immediately after the Panthers’ goal, and they were rewarded in the 18th minute when junior defender Paul Wiese sprinted down the right side and played a rolling pass into the center of the box for senior midfielder Mouhameth Thiam. Thiam needed only one touch to ripple Pittsburgh’s net, equalizing for Virginia with his third goal of the season. 

There was no letup in the Cavaliers following their breakthrough, as an incisive pass from Thiam allowed freshman forward Stephen Annor Gyamfi a one-on-one opportunity with the Panthers’ sophomore goalkeeper Cabral Carter in the 23rd minute. Virginia fans have come to expect goals from Gyamfi when he finds space inside 18 yards, but the freshman’s shot bounced inches wide of the left post on this occasion. 

When another opportunity presented itself just five minutes later, Gyamfi did not make the same mistake. A darting run into the box by Thiam was spotted by sophomore defender Reese Miller, who sliced a through ball perfectly onto the senior’s path. Thiam calmly side-footed a delivery towards the lone Gyamfi, whose first-time shot rolled beyond Carter’s outstretched arms. 

“[The Panthers] play with a very high line, which is risky, especially with the speed and dangerous attacking players that we have,” Gelnovatch said. “It’s kind of how we got behind them and scored.”

The goal was Gyamfi’s eighth in 2023, giving him sole possession of second place on the ACC’s goal scoring list and the Cavaliers a 2-1 advantage entering halftime. 

Out of the break, Virginia looked to be in control of the match. The Cavaliers held Pittsburgh without a shot for the first 15 minutes of the second period, keeping the ball out of their defensive half for much of that span.

The Panthers did earn a corner kick in the 60th minute, and the ensuing set-piece attempt from junior midfielder Guilherme Feitosa was arrowing for the top corner. However, junior goalkeeper Joey Batrouni tipped the shot over the net with a leaping save to ensure Virginia remained in front.

Batrouni was called on yet again just two minutes later, as a Pittsburgh attack culminated in an open volley for junior forward Abdoulaye Toure from inside 10 yards. Toure’s blast bounced off the hands of an alert Batrouni, who was finding himself busy in the second half.

The Cavaliers quickly patched up the holes the Panthers were finding in their defense, forcing Pittsburgh into another long drought without a shot. The Panthers won another free kick in a dangerous area in the 79th minute, but a five-man Virginia wall blocked sophomore defender Jackson Gilman’s effort.

The Cavaliers shifted into an especially defensive-minded gear to try and protect the lead in the game’s closing minutes, and they were successful in doing so. Virginia saw out the last minutes of the match with relative comfort, earning a signature conference victory that moves them above Pittsburgh and into second place in the ACC Coastal.

“When you’re defending a one-goal lead in this conference and there’s 15 minutes left in the game, things start getting a little weird,” Gelnovatch said. “You have to step up, you have to block, you have to defend, you have to move your feet, you have to clear balls out of the box, and today was a great exercise in doing that against a very, very good team.”

The Cavaliers are building momentum as the postseason nears. Virginia improved to 7-1-1 at home on the season, but with an 0-2-2 road record and a trip to Blacksburg to face Virginia Tech looming, the Cavaliers know they will have to improve their performances away from home. Virginia has scored only three goals across its four road fixtures, a far cry from the 15 goals the Cavaliers have accrued in their nine home matches. 

“We have to translate that to our away games now,” Miller said. “We have to be the villain over there and the heroes over here.”

Virginia will attempt to do just that Friday at Thompson Field, where they will meet the Hokies for yet another edition of the Commonwealth Clash. The game will kick off at 6 p.m. and is set to be streamed on ACC Network.

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