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Virginia men's soccer team plays UNC Wilmington to a draw

Virginia men's soccer team plays UNC Wilmington to a draw

Creating scoring chances has been an issue for the Virginia men’s soccer team this season.

The Cavaliers entered Tuesday ranked last in the ACC in shots per game, averaging 10 per contest. Against UNC Wilmington, the Cavaliers finished with a respectable 27 shots.

While the offensive creation seemed improved from past showings, the Cavaliers weren’t content after playing the Seahawks to a 1-1 draw.

“Disappointing,” head coach George Gelnovatch said. “Disappointing in a sense that for long, long stretches of the game we had them pinned back, and a lot of good chances. In a game like this, it’s very disappointing to come out with a tie.”

The result adds to a frustrating stretch for the Cavaliers, who are 3-6-2 through 11 matches. The last time UVa only had three or fewer victories through 11 matches came in 1967, when the group started 2-9.

It’s a jarring contrast from the 2019 team, which made the national championship game with an elite defense and a dangerous attack. Daryl Dike led the way at forward, giving UVa a striker with lethal goal scoring potential. Dike, who currently plays for MLS team Orlando City, attended the match Tuesday. He chatted with Gelnovatch for a few minutes after the game.

“I was just talking to Daryl, back in 2019 we win that game 1-0 or we win in overtime 1-0 on a play, but that was an experienced, special group,” Gelnovatch said. “This group will get there.”

Wins and losses hardly paint the full picture of Virginia’s season, which is why Gelnovatch remains confident in the future of the program.

The current Cavaliers don’t look like the 2019 team in large part due to the team’s youth. Virginia started seven freshmen Tuesday. No seniors started. Gelnovatch is bullish on the group, even if this season features some growing pains.

“I think the group knows what’s ahead, but it’s frustrating along the way when you’re not getting the wins,” Gelnovatch said.

Tuesday’s result against UNCW (7-3-1, 2-1 CAA) was Virginia’s eighth loss or draw since beginning the season 2-0. The Cavaliers (3-6-2, 0-4 ACC) have only scored multiple goals three times this fall, although they came close Tuesday.

The Seahawks scored first on a breakaway goal in the seventh minute. Omar Aboutaleb found open space in front of the UVa net and finished past a diving Holden Brown. UVa’s goalkeeper held his hands upward, frustrated by the lack of defenders in front of Aboutaleb.

Jacob Evans was credited with the assist, feeding the pass to Aboutaleb into open space on the right side of the box.

It was a good sequence from the Seahawks, and a familiar sight for Virginia.

The Cavaliers haven’t scored first in a match since taking a 1-0 lead over Maryland on Sept. 6. Tuesday’s match marks the eighth consecutive Virginia game that has either ended in a scoreless tie or seen the Cavaliers trail 1-0 at some point during the contest. UVa is 1-5-2 during that span.

After allowing the early goal, UVa controlled possession for most of the final 80 minutes of the match. UNCW needed a stellar performance from goalkeeper Gabriel Perrotta to leave Charlottesville with a draw. He finished with a career-best 14 saves, surpassing his previous career-high mark of 12.

The Cavaliers were aggressive in the last 30 minutes, scoring in the 69th minute on a nice series of moves by sophomore forward Leo Afonso. Nifty footwork gave him space in the right side of the box, and he converted the opportunity.

An official initially ruled Afonso offside moments after the goal, but a conversation among referees ended with the goal being counted.

“I knew I wasn’t offside, but then he called it and I was like, ‘Oh my god, no way,’” Afonso said, “but as long as it counts, for me, it’s OK, it doesn’t matter.”

Afonso was impactful Tuesday.

He scored UVa’s lone goal and led all players with eight shots. He seemed to enjoy the afternoon match, which was moved up 5 1/2 hours due to expected inclement weather Tuesday night.

“I was surprised,” Afonso said. “I got a text last night, and I was like, ‘Oh, there’s a chance we might play at 1,’ but that’s OK. I just show up and play.”

The forward showed up in a big way Tuesday.

UVa hopes to pick up its first ACC victory Friday when it hosts Boston College at 8 p.m.

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