A quick strike on offense from Edward Opoku and a career night in goal from Jeff Caldwell lifted the Virginia men’s soccer team past Notre Dame 1-0 on Friday night. The Cavaliers turned away a second half barrage to become only the second team to hold the Fighting Irish scoreless this season.
UVA stands unbeaten over its last six matches with back-to-back wins against top five ACC opponents after dropping North Carolina 2-1 last Friday night. This week’s victory also stopped a five-game unbeaten streak for Notre Dame.
”This means a lot to us,” Opoku said. ”The whole week we prepared for this, we played them last year two times over there and they beat us both, and we said to ourselves in the locker room, we can’t lose to them here. We have to find anyway we can to beat them. It was a great team effort. The team was disciplined and we did everything coach said. It was a big win for us. A great, great win.”
Opoku delivered the only goal Virginia needed a mere 6:24 into the contest. It came on the Cavaliers’ first shot of the match in fact. Notre Dame attempted a pass in its back end, but Opoku swiped the ball and burst toward the goal. He put it home for his team-leading fifth goal of the season.
The sophomore said he had been encouraged to take some chances from his spot in the scheme.
”Coach was telling me during the week during the video, they pass the ball a lot at the back end,” Opoku said. ”I should just use my instincts and whenever I feel like I can go and get the ball, I should just go. I knew he was going to pass back and I said to myself just go for it. It was a great finish I guess. It was a great win for the team and I’m so glad we got the win.”
UVA made that goal last all the way to the finish thanks to strong possession in the first half and strong defense in the second. The Fighting Irish pushed forward repeatedly after intermission and created an 11-3 edge in shots (15-4 for the game) as a result.
Caldwell rose to the occasion to keep the goose egg unbroken.
”You need that. You need your goalkeeper to make one or two big saves against a team like Notre Dame,” Cavalier coach George Gelnovatch said. ”I think the first half we starved them of possession. We had the ball a lot. In the second half, they obviously stepped up their pressure a little bit. They were trailing by a goal so they had to. We absorbed it for most of the half. In the end, we closed it out and defended well.”
Caldwell matched a career high with 7 saves, which included a handful of difficult stops. He made at least one diving effort in each half and smothered a rocket near post in the second too. Notre Dame saw one shot deflect off the side bar and could not get on the scoreboard.
The junior said he expects to be tested like that when facing ACC opponents. Virginia’s six league games to date have all come against teams ranked in the top 20 nationally.
”We put ourselves in a really good position to win within 10 minutes,” Caldwell said. ”I think we would have liked to have given ourselves a little separation with another goal or two. When you get up early, there’s no reason you shouldn’t win the game. If that means I have to make a couple of big saves, then that means I have to make a couple of big saves. The ACC is the ACC. If you don’t have to make a big save in an ACC game, it’s an anomaly.”