Syracuse men’s soccer advances to ACC Finals in penalty shootout thriller vs Virginia
SU men's soccer survives penalty shootout against Virginia
It seems that Syracuse’s soccer team is beginning to earn itself a reputation for dramatic matches. After beating North Carolina thanks to a goal scored with four minutes left to play, Syracuse found themselves in another suspenseful match yet again, this time against Virginia.
The two sides met tonight in a rematch after facing each other earlier in the regular season. The Cavaliers got the better of the Orange in that matchup, but tonight was Syracuse’s revenge game.
“That was a fun ACC semifinal,” SU head coach Ian McIntyre said. “It was a privilege to be part of that. I’m very proud of our guys.”
As the whistle sounded to begin the match, both teams soon found themselves with good chances to open up the scoring.
In the 6th minute, what appeared to be the first goal of the match, scored by Virginia, silenced the Syracuse crowd. After a foul was called on the Orange just outside the team’s own box, Virginia was granted a free kick. The set piece was taken by Jeremy Verley, who crossed it into his teammates. The ball soon reached the back of the net after being headed into the top left corner by Virginia forward Phillip Horton. As the crowd looked around, trying to process what happened, the linesman raised his flag, signaling that Horton was offside.
This, however, was not the last time Virginia would give Syracuse a good scare early on. Ten minutes later, Virginia received the ball for a throw-in near the middle of the pitch. As the players were getting set, Virginia forward Leo Alfonso snuck behind the Orange defense as the ball was thrown towards him, leaving only Syracuse goalkeeper Russell Shealy in his path. But as soon as Alfonso reached the box, he shot the ball wide of the left post for a goal kick. Had Virginia converted these chances, the night might have turned out very differently for them.
In the 27th minute, Syracuse took advantage of those missed Virginia opportunities with a flurry of scoring chances. After turning the ball over to Virginia, Syracuse’s Giona Leibold tracked the ball down to the opposite side of the field, recovered it, and started a Syracuse counterattack. As he drew closer to the Virginia box, he found his teammate Noah Singlemann, who then launched a cross into the box. The cross was just out of reach of its target Levonte Johnson, but the Orange made up for the missed chance just moments later after Nathan Opoku was tackled inside the box for a penalty.
Midfielder Jeorgio Kocevski was tasked with taking the shot and didn’t disappoint as he slotted it into the bottom left corner of the net to give Syracuse a 1-0 lead.
Unfortunately for the Orange, the lead didn’t last for long. In the 38th minute, Virginia’s Paul Wiese sent a cross into the box found Axel Ahlander, who sent the ball further behind. The ball was received and headed into the net by Andreas Ueland to even the score. The first half soon came to an end with both teams tied at 1-1.
The start of the second half was relatively calm as the ball oscillated between both teams, but tensions began to flare in the 60th minute. Virginia’s Phillip Horton found himself face down in the Syracuse box shortly after a challenge by Olu Oyegunle. The referee believed it to be a clean tackle, but Virginia head coach George Gelnovatch thought otherwise. Gelnovatch was absolutely livid with the lack of a call and was rewarded with a yellow card for his display on the sidelines.
Perhaps this motivated the Virginia team because the tie was broken six minutes later. Horton beat Oyegunle with a quick cut inside the Syracuse box, where he launched a shot that forced goalkeeper Russell Shealy to make a diving save. Shealy was able to get a hand on the shot, but the ball fell right to Leo Afonso, who tapped it into the net to put Virginia ahead by a goal.
Syracuse’s response finally came just under 20 minutes later in the 84th minute of the match. Lorenzo Boselli and Nathan Opoku executed a perfect give-and-go as Opoku got the ball to Boselli just inside the Virginia box. Boselli then proceeded to launch the game-tying goal into the bottom left corner of the net with just six minutes left to play in regular time. The crowd of 1,340 people immediately jumped to their feet, cheering on the team that has shown no quit all throughout the year.
The game then went into two 10-minute overtime periods, during which both teams could not score. Now it was time for the penalty kicks. Syracuse shot first, and by Virginia’s second kick, Syracuse was up 2-1 due to goals from Boselli and Kocevski.
Andreas Ueland made a feint as he ran up to kick the ball, but Russell Shealy was not deceived. Ueland launched the ball toward the left side of the net, but Shealy was right there to keep the ball out.
“Russell pulled off the one save we needed … we get to play Sunday because of it,” McIntyre said.
Both teams made their next two penalty kicks, resulting in a 4-3 score as Colin Biros walked up to take the final kick for Syracuse. The pressure was on him. If he made the kick, Syracuse would win the game. Biros stepped up to the spot and buried the ball dead center as Virginia goalkeeper Holden Brown dove right.
“We’ve got a number of guys that we feel are good penalty takers,” McIntyre said. “They’ve got good technique, self-confidence, and maturity. Colin is one of them.”
The Syracuse bench ran out to embrace their teammates. The fans in the bleachers soon came out to join them. It was a hard-fought, emotional win for the Orange, who have found themselves in many such games in the past few weeks. Next up for Syracuse is the ACC Championship game in North Carolina, where they will hope to win the title against Clemson on Sunday at Noon.
“Right now we’re going to enjoy this moment. But, tomorrow our full focus will be on Sunday.” said Giona Leibold.” [Clemson] is going to get the best from us.”