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Men’s Soccer Still Looking for First Conference Win

Isabelle Davis, Contributor
Forward Austen Burnikel (20) goes up for a header during a game at Historic Riggs Field 

The sixth ranked Clemson men’s soccer team hit the road this weekend for an ACC showdown in Charlottesville, Virginia to take on the 16th ranked Virginia Cavaliers. After a heartbreaking loss at home against North Carolina last weekend, the Tigers went out in search of their first conference victory of the year. 

Things started out badly for the Tigers as Virginia jumped out to an early 1-0 lead thanks to a defensive lapse from Clemson. However, Clemson responded with a goal of their own in the nineteenth minute from Malick Mbaye, his first goal as a Tiger. The offense tacked on two more goals in the first half, one from Austen Burnickle and the other from Oliver Shannon, taking a 3-1 lead into half. 

The second half was a completely different game. Head Coach Mike Noonan echoed that sentiment after the game. It was a tale of two halves in many regards,” he said. “I thought our mentality wavered a bit in the second half.” 

A little over 10 minutes into the second half, Virginia’s Salandy-Defour scored his second goal of the night to bring the Cavs back within one goal. Then, another defensive mistake from the Tigers gave up a penalty kick with ten minutes remaining in the match. Virginia capitalized on the mistake and tied the game at 3-3, forcing the game into overtime. 

The game had been physical all night and it was evident the players on both sides were tired. Both teams had a few chances over the course of the two 10-minute overtime periods but neither of them were able to score another goal. With it being the regular season, there was no penalty shootout to determine a winner, it instead ended with a 3-3 tie. 

What has to be concerning for the Tigers is the way their defense is playing. The only time they gave up three or more goals last season was in their loss to Stanford in the National Championship game. However, this wasn’t a case of Virginia’s offense being stunning enough to score those goals, as was the case with Stanford, instead it was mistakes that led to the opportunities for the Cavs. 

Several times, the Clemson defense found themselves scrambling to recover and the forwards from Virginia were able to get in behind the back line more often than is comfortable for the Tigers. Not only did the miscues lead to goals, but they were also evident in the amount of fouls committed on the evening. There were multiple times when Clemson defenders would clip or pull down an attacking Virginia player because they were out of position and could not defend it properly. This was the case with the penalty kick as well, a sloppy foul inside the box by Grayson Raynor gave Virginia that opportunity. Raynor was later called for a foul right on the edge of the box in overtime which led to one of the most threatening moments. 

Virginia was able to rifle off 18 shots, eight of which were on-goal. For perspective, in the 4-0 loss to Stanford last season, Clemson only gave up nine shots, five on frame. Goalkeeper Ximo Miralles had five saves or else Clemson might have found themselves on the losing side of this one.

While Clemson is used to being on the other end of that stat line, their defense has prided itself on closing down opposing attackers and limiting the amount of opportunities for teams to score. 

“It has been a tough first five matches but we continue to grow and learn as a team,” Noonan said. There is a lot of youth and inexperience on this Clemson back line, and right now it is evident. They will have to clean up their play in a hurry if they want to make another run this season. 
Clemson is now 3-1-1, (0-1-1 in conference play). The Tigers will take a break from ACC play for a midweek matchup against Gardner-Webb at Historic Riggs Field on September 20 at 7 p.m. 

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