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No. 11 men’s soccer beats FIU, advances to third round of NCAA Tournament

The Cavaliers scored the game's first and last goals on their way to a crucial victory

Virginia men’s soccer hosted FIU at Klöckner Stadium in Charlottesville for a matchup in the second round of the NCAA Tournament Sunday. The No. 11 Cavaliers (11-3-4, 5-2-1 ACC) were able to earn a 2-1 win in overtime despite a strong opponent and very tense match, as the Panthers (10-5-4, 5-1-2 ACC) fought persistently against Virginia in an aggressive match. 

“At this time of year in both the ACC Tournament and the postseason, every team is good,” Coach George Gelnovatch said. “This FIU team is a very good team and gave us a good game today.”

The match opened with strong Virginia possessions and several back-and-forth opportunities between the Cavaliers and the Panthers. The game stayed at a stalemate until the 26th minute, when Leo Afonso, senior forward and team captain,  came off the bench and scored just 10 minutes later.

The opportunity arose when senior midfielder Mouhameth Thiam captured the ball deep inside the penalty area. The ball was deflected, landing right near Afonso, who shot right into the back of the net to give Virginia a 1-0 lead. 

However, the Panthers were quick to answer as graduate student defender Kasper Skraep found sophomore midfielder João Domíngues in the box, who shot the ball right from Virginia’s penalty area to get FIU back on level terms. 

The second half opened with Virginia in control, finding as many opportunities as possible to break ahead. There was increased tension throughout the half, with both teams fighting hard to capitalize on their respective chances. Although senior defender Will Citron had an opportunity to score, the second half was ultimately scoreless as neither team could break through, sending the match to overtime.

Afonso entered the first period of overtime looking eager to score, and he delivered for the Cavaliers with an incredible moment. Junior defender Paul Wiese stepped up to take the corner kick, which redshirt junior defender Austin Rome was able to glance into the path of Afonso for a golden opportunity.

Afonso delivered, knocking the ball into the net with a magnificent overhead kick and sending Virginia into the third round of the tournament for the first time since 2019. Klöckner Stadium erupted, with fans celebrating and bringing up the energy level for the remainder of the overtime period. 

Sunday’s match marked the most minutes Afonso has played in a game since his injury against James Madison back in September. Afonso’s goals were his fourth and fifth of the season, making him the third Cavaliers player to record a brace in 2023.

Although Virginia was outshot 12-5 by FIU, junior goalkeeper Joey Batrouni made four saves to the Panthers’ one, emphasizing his importance to this Cavaliers team. Afonso and Batrouni’s efforts pushed Virginia’s unbeaten streak to 10 games and kept the Cavaliers undefeated in their last 11 matches at Klöckner Stadium. 

“I am just proud of the effort of this team,” Gelnovatch said. “We are a pretty young team and not a lot of them have been in the postseason and in these games. To get this win in the fashion that we did is really good for this team.”

Virginia now sits just four wins away from a national title. Although Gelnovatch’s team is less experienced in postseason play than many of their remaining competitors, that experience is quickly building. The Cavaliers are undoubtedly one of the most talented teams left in the bracket, and with the likes of No. 6 Wake Forest and No. 8 Duke already eliminated from Virginia’s region, Gelnovatch and company have a promising path to hardware.

The Cavaliers will look to continue treading on that path Sunday when they host Indiana in a third-round matchup in the NCAA Tournament. Kickoff is set for 1 p.m.


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