On Tuesday, Sept. 4, UNCG surrendered a 2-0 halftime lead to the High Point Panthers at the UNCG Soccer Stadium, eventually falling to their crosstown rival with a close score of 3-2.
It was the second gut-wrenching defeat in a row for the Spartans, who lost to the Davidson Wildcats on Sept. 1, with a score of 1-0.
The first goal of the night came behind the leg of midfielder Alex Henderson in the fifth minute, sending UNCG’s home crowd into a frenzy.
After exchanging failed attacks for most of the first half, UNCG’s Tyson Hichman cushioned the lead with an easy goal past HPU’s hapless goalkeeper, Keegan Meyer. Hichman received a rebound from an errant Spartan shot, raced past a Panther fullback, and chipped it past Meyer into the lower left-hand corner of the goal.
The Spartans took a 2-0 lead into the halftime break with little to complain about. The defenders were playing crisply as one unit, and keeper Ricky Zarri recorded a few nice saves, as well.
However, HPU made adjustments at the half, with a newfound determination that was set in motion with the first whistle of the second half.
As the Panthers spaced out the field early in the half, they started finding pockets of open real estate in a UNCG defense that was suddenly porous. The Blue and Gold threw all kinds of looks at their crosstown rival, but it was no use. Zarri proved to be UNCG’s last line of defense, knocking away a number of Panther shots on goal, but eventually, the scores started trickling in.
“They just started finding their wide players in the pockets, which caused us a lot of problems,” said UNCG Head Coach, Justin Maullin. “We tried to go to a 4-4-2 to change a tactical adjustment, tried to deny space, and that still didn’t work. Then we went five across the back… at the end of the day, we’ve just got to keep the ball better, or otherwise you’re going to defend for 45 minutes.”
Ball control was a serious issue for the Spartans all night, thanks in part to the 16 fouls called on the Spartans, 11 more than were called on the Panthers. Some of these fouls looked questionable from the layman’s eye, and the Spartan coaching staff was yapping at the officials all night.
“It just seemed like every little tacky-tack foul was a foul for them and we had to get rugby tackled to get anything,” Coach Maullin said. “In the end, that didn’t really define the game. We’ve just got to figure out how to deal with these players coming off our back line and tighten up defensively and keep moving forward.”
Ilias Kosmidis first struck for the Panthers in the 64th minute, followed by goals from Bana Ganidekham in the 74th and 84th minute, respectively. Ganidekham’s final game-winning goal had sucked the life out of the UNCG Soccer Stadium, as the last of dusk faded to night. HPU’s well-traveling soccer fans rejoiced in their corner of the stadium.