With the Spartans coming into the SoCon tournament off of a blowout 8-1 victory versus VMI on Saturday, the Spartans played the Furman Paladins on Saturday night in Greensboro. Fortunately, our Spartans was able to move on in the tournament with a 1-0 victory versus Furman. The Spartans came into this game excited and ready to play on their home turf at the start of the SoCon tournament, which is being held in Greensboro this year.
Coach Justin Maullin expressed how the team was feeling before heading into this game: “It means everything to us. Here in the men’s soccer program it is very important for us to win championships. Obviously with us hosting the tournament, we’ve been talking all week to the guys.”
The game is against Furman, a big rival of UNCG, so the coaches and spectators expected a good game with high-flying emotions, which is what they got.
The first half of the game was a tight matchup between UNCG and Furman. Both squads had offensive opportunities, but tough defenses on both sides held off any scoring. This game was filled with fouls and cards as well. Midfielder Matteo Busio got tagged with a yellow card in the second half, which Coach Maullin expressed some distaste towards.
“I thought it was a bit early, but this ref is certainly one of the better referees in the league, so I wasn’t too concerned about Matteo getting a second because this ref is excellent,” said Maullin.
Matteo did not get tagged with any other cards the rest of the match. Besides the yellow that was given to Busio in the first half, there were other small skirmishes and some pushing in the first half. Considering how big of rivals UNCG and Furman are, this did not surprise anyone, especially the spectators. However, Maullin trusted his team and knew that they would not do anything silly. Fortunately, the Spartans kept their emotions under control and played smart. Coach Maullin said,
“It’s just a typical UNCG Furman game, as long as it doesn’t escalate into anything more, I just told the linesmen just to try and take care of those situations, because every time there was a skirmish, maybe Furman would make a little more of it, but the referee is excellent so I wasn’t too worried about it.”
With the score matched at 0-0 at the end of the first half, Coach Maullin chatted about what he told his team at halftime. “We just spoke of how to take care of their #11, because they had a set game plan and were trying to find #11 out left, so I thought we did an excellent job of doing that. We spoke about switching on our set-pieces, because Furman is pretty dangerous on set-pieces. We also wanted to keep up the intensity we had during the first half.” Furman’s #11, Josiah Baker, was kept in check the entire night and that certainly helped the Spartans secure the victory in this game. Furman had 3 corner kicks in the first half of the game, which definitely made the crowd more nervous.
Once the second half started, UNCG fought hard to create opportunities and score. Although no goal came until almost the end of the game, one did come off the foot of blue and gold defender Eric Gunnarsson in the 74th minute of the second half. The goal came off of a long throw-in. The goal was scored in traffic from eight yards out. When talking about how proud he was of his goal-scorer, Maullin said, “He’s scored the game winner against Campbell on something very similar. I’m very, very happy for him. He’s a good player and he had a clutch goal.”
Soon after, the game ended on a good note. The crowd heavily applauded the team as they waved to the pumped-up crowd. Coach Justin Maullin commented on how the team was was feeling about playing in a semifinal match. “We’ll be ready,” said Maullin. “Not only is it playing for the Southern Conference title, were playing at home. So we’ll be ready.” The Spartans will be going into their semifinal match with momentum and playing in front of their home crowd will definitely help.