GREENSBORO, N.C. – UNCG kicked off with a later start than usual at home versus the Montreat Cavaliers in an exhibition game on Wednesday, where they dominated possession, initiative and aggression. The first few minutes of the game did not bode well for the Spartans and first-season coach Chris Rich. The team appeared timid, leaving space and time for the Cavaliers to form attacking maneuvers on the Spartan goal. At around the ten minute mark, the Spartans began to take control of the game, and the attacking power of their front three, with excellent support of the midfield began to outshine the staunch Cavalier defense. Many goal-scoring opportunities were either squandered or quashed by the Cavalier defense, but soon enough, UNCG struck.
Manny Apau, determined to rectify his painful miss in the seventh minute, intercepted a wonderful cross from the right wing to just outside the penalty box. Apau skillfully chipped the ball past the Cavalier goalkeeper, putting the Spartans up early in the first half. The game would continue like this for some time, with UNCG continuing to create and subsequently squander opportunities, including Nelson Oceano’s attempt on the goal, which soared high and wide. However, a noticeably invigorated UNCG side was pressing urgency and panic against the Montreat defense.
It wasn’t until some time later, at the 35th minute, that UNCG scored their second goal. Micah Albert shot from the side of the box into the corner, a beautiful placement. Montreat, heads still held high, walked back to the halfway line to kick the game off. The rest of the first half was a series of dangerous-looking assaults on the Montreat defense, which staunchly held their ground.
The whistle blew, and it was 2-0 Spartans at halftime.
Into the second half, Rich deployed an almost entirely new eleven players onto the field. This team had a particular attacking power that Montreat could not defend nearly as well against. Jack Bole stole the ball from the Cavalier defense just outside the box, and drove the ball home for an incredibly comfortable 3-0 lead.
The fourth goal was the result of an intricately planned set-piece, with Montoya taking the corner, it was crossed to the near side, where Brendan Fischer took a shot, which ricocheted from the woodwork straight into the waiting feet of Matthew Skinner, who simply tapped the ball into the center of the net. The fifth goal came three minutes and thirty seconds after the fourth, when Julian Montoya successfully wrestled the ball away from the Montreat Right Centre Back, and then chipped the ball beautifully over the goalkeeper.
This remarkably one-sided game begs a question for the Spartans in the upcoming season: Is there more where that came from? From watching the Spartans play together, they seem incredibly well-tuned for only their second game as a squad, even if it was just an exhibition. Their defense was solid but was rather untested in the Montreat game. Ricky Zarri, the goalkeeper for the first half, made only one save. Connor Cochrane, who was the goalkeeper during the second half made zero.
The attacking power of the front three was often undermined by their own enthusiasm, as they were often caught offside. This happened a total of eight times, and the vast majority took place in the first half. The midfield did an exquisite job of supporting the attacking three with well placed crosses and set-pieces, which contributed to three of the five goals. The midfield were also responsible for the vast majority of the successful challenges, and subsequently thwarting Montreat’s attacks.
If UNCG’s men’s football team continues on this track with this level of precision, enthusiasm and consistency, the school may be in for a league-winning year.
UNCG play their opening league match against George Washington University on Friday.
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