In the main event of this past Homecoming Weekend, the UNCG Men’s Soccer team, ranked second in the SoCon (Southern Conference), faced off against the No. 1 seeded Furman Paladins Saturday night. Three weeks prior, the Spartans team were handed a 2-0 defeat to the Paladins in the team’s first in-Conference road game. Since that game, the Blue and Gold had gone 2-0-1 with a conference win at Wofford, and a 7-0 trouncing at Virginia Military Institute. With the stadium packed with students, parents, and alumni, and a match between two of the conference’s the night was set for a great night. Unfortunately however, the Spartans could not pull off the victory.
The story of the first half of the match was one of aggressive play on both sides, especially for the Paladins. With a Conference high of 71 fouls, the team added six more to that total in the first half. However, the Spartans equaled that total in the defensive battle. With such an aggressive strategy for the evening, Coach Justin Maullin talked about what he wanted his team to accomplish for the night.
“[Our] game plan was to play direct and press them. We just came off a great win at Wofford playing the exact same way” Maulin said. “I thought we did that well in the first fifteen minutes and in the later part of the first half, not so much. We had to change our tactics and the game turned in our favor when we did that.”
In those last fifteen minutes of the first half, the evenly-matched game shifted towards the Paladins. The back and forth tug of war for most of the half, became the Spartans defense trying everything to hold the Paladins from scoring in the first half.
In just his third start, freshman goalkeeper Jon Mulligan played the entire match and registered five of his nine saves in the first half, including one in the final seconds. Maullin talked about the decision to insert Mulligan in the starting lineup.
“Jon has proven that he is slightly better at the moment. Logan is a terrific goalkeeper, but right now Jon is pretty secure. His feet are good, he is making some good saves and even though he is young, he is still a good goalkeeper.
Coming out of halftime, the second half began with an offensive onslaught from the Spartans. Over a course of about the first eight minutes, three great shots on goal were made by the Spartans. Each was stopped by the Paladins standout goalkeeper, Sven Lissek, including the play of the match where Lissek stopped a point blank missile from just a couple feet out.
Maulin talked about what the team did defensively, to help set up the offense.
“We change to go with two strikers defensively to tighten things up at midfield and the tactical change helped us get into the front foot” said Coach Maullin.
In an exciting second half of the match, which saw a total of nine shots on goal for the two teams (Furman with 6, UNCG with 3) and referees allowing aggressive defense to be played on both teams, the second half ended scoreless.
In the first overtime, the Spartans again went out like a pack of wild dogs, chasing after every loose ball and pushing their offense up the field relentlessly. They completely outplayed Furman in the first OT, with four shot on goals and two corner kicks compared to zero for Furman in both categories. Once again however, UNCG could capitalize on a goal, and the match was scoreless. With ten minutes left in the second overtime, both teams continued to play hard. However, it was clear that the defenses, and especially the goalkeepers were not going to let a single ball pass. The match ended a 0-0 tie.
Though a tie is never fun, Maulin discussed the differences he saw between his team’s first matchup against Furman, and Saturday.
“The first match, we were outstanding in the first half, but really poor in the second half. We were up a man and just came out really poorly. It was the worst soccer we played all year” Maulin said.
As Furman remains on top of the Conference, the Spartans now have just the weakest hold on second place, in front of Wofford. The next home match will be on Saturday against Wofford for control over second place. It is also be the Senior night for the five seniors on roster.