GREENSBORO, N.C. – The UNCG men’s soccer team and their coach, Chris Rich, worked hard for their first win of the collegiate season at home. UNCG squared off against the George Washington Colonials on a beautiful North Carolina night on August 30, and came away with the 2-0 victory.
With a sizeable crowd, the game kicked off into an evenly-matched first half shortly after 7:00 p.m. No clear winner came of the first half, where the Colonials and the Spartans worked attacks, angles and probed one another’s defenses. There was a heart-stopping moment where the Colonials managed to work through the rather hectic Spartan defence and put a shot on goal. The ball left the striker’s feet just outside the penalty box and Ricky Zarri, the UNCG goalkeeper, stretched to try and stop it but the woodwork did the job for him. The Spartans and Colonials kept this back and forth going chance after chance, and it was clear that the Spartans were beginning to play mind games with the Colonials.
The physicality of the match was phenomenal, with three yellow cards in the first half for the Colonials, and many fouls for both teams that went with no cards. This physicality was, as evidenced by the yellow cards, moreso on the Colonials’ side of the game. When the whistle blew, the teams retreated to their benches with no score on the board.
The second half of the game was quite different. The Colonials burst out onto the field with an explosion of energy, and nearly bested the Spartan defense. With their redoubled efforts, it seemed that the lack of any result from it disheartened the George Washington, and they began to get frustrated. This was the tipping point of the game. UNCG saw that the Colonials’ silly mistakes and fouls were beginning to add up – something had to give. The Spartans’ patience and cool temperament eventually paid off in the 61stt minute. A run up the right side of the pitch by Cameron Fowler and a good pass into the box created a scramble, and Riley Copeland, a freshman, put the ball into the back of the net. From here, the game went downhill for the Colonials.
The Spartans’ second goal came from a free kick given away in the attacking third. A well-placed cross by Ethan Conley into the center of the box ended with Casey Penland skillfully heading the ball into the lower left corner of the net. By this point in the game, the atmosphere at UNCG’s stadium was abuzz. The Spartans maintained their temperament, and the Colonials kept desperately trying to score back at the Spartans. There were some breaths held around the park as a Colonial striker was knocked down by a careless shoulder charge in the midst of the penalty box, knocking over Ricky Zarri in the process.
This should have been a penalty, however the referee decided that Zarri had been fouled instead. Exasperation and frustration was shown from the Colonial players to the Colonial bench. This resulted in a fairly heinous foul committed by a Colonial, who received the final booking of the second half for the visitors. UNCG received their first yellow card four minutes before the end of the game, when Nelson Oceano carelessly fouled a Colonial defender just outside of the box.
For the remainder of the match, UNCG played a very simple and well-executed game of possession and defending. They seemed comfortable in their lead and at no point did the visitors appear as if they could have scored in the closing minutes of the game. If the Spartans can keep up this level of play and the ability to read the mood of the opposition, then the school may yet again be in for another season of Spartan excellence. UNCG plays again on the Sep 6 at Clemson.