Senior Staff Writer
On Tuesday, October 11th, the UNCG Men’s Soccer Team traveled to Clemson, S.C., to play their second ACC matchup of the year. Entering the matchup, the Spartans were ranked No. 23 in the National Coaches Poll; the Tigers sat at No. 18.
There has been some recent history favoring the Spartans as they handed Clemson their first loss of the 2021 season last fall. After the loss versus the Spartans, Clemson would go on to win the 2021 National Championship. Last year’s game mirrored a cold, rainy night in Stoke as the Spartans prevailed 3-1 over the No. 2 team in the nation. Last year’s victory had everyone wondering if Coach Rich and the Spartans could upset the Tigers again, this time on their pitch.
The fast-paced game carried high intensity from both teams for the full 90 minutes. Senior Ethan Conley set the tone early by challenging Clemson and was a noticeable leader for the entire team. The first big play came from a save by Junior Niclas Wild off a set piece in the 34th minute, keeping the game level at nil-nil. Only four minutes later, Sophomore J.C Ngando crossed the ball to Fifth-Year Senior Marco Afonso for the easy finish at the 38-minute mark to give the Spartans a 1-0 lead; the Clemson defenders looked to the side, begging for an offsides call that never came. After the first half, UNCG found themselves up 1-0 against the Tigers.
Early in the second half, Clemson found an equalizer from midfielder Ousmane Sylla. The Spartans kept their composure despite the equalizer from the Tigers, and ten minutes later landed another one in the back of the net. Sophomore Basile Marc crossed the ball and found Conley for the finish, giving the Spartans the lead. The Tigers outshot UNCG nine to five and had seven more corners. The two teams had an equal three shots on goal. In the end, the Spartans held strong for the remainder of the game and stole a 2-1 win on the road versus the Tigers. This win is not just an added number to the record; it is a statement win that shows the Spartans are a force that could make some noise come postseason.
Playing on the road in college soccer is difficult, especially against a program like Clemson. The Spartans have played well on the road but have struggled to capture a signature road win until Tuesday. The Spartans tied 0-0 against SMU in September and then tied 1-1 against No. 15 Louisville. The Spartans are 2-0-1 versus ACC opponents, 2-0-0 in conference play, and 9-1-3 overall.
The men’s squad is rolling coming off of the impressive Clemson win, but they are looking forward to playing another conference match against ETSU this weekend at home. Saturday’s game is the UNCG Homecoming game, Title IX celebration night, and Senior Night for the Spartans, where we will recognize nine seniors in their last regular season match on home turf. Saturday’s match is crucial as ETSU is also undefeated in conference play; a win on Saturday would be huge in gaining home-field advantage for the conference tournament.
The Spartans only have three regular games left in the season before the SoCon Conference Tournament on Nov. 4-12. After the homecoming game against ETSU, the Spartans will travel to Mercer on Oct. 22, have a week break, then travel to Wofford on Oct. 29 to round out the 2022 regular season. The Spartans have proved themselves to be one of the best teams in the country and are looking to carry the momentum into conference play and the postseason.
Update: UNCG tied with ETSU 1-1 on Oct. 15. The Spartan goal came in the 87th minute from Graduate Student Ismail El Harchi, assisted by Ngando. This brings UNCG’s record to 9-1-4 overall and 2-0-1 in conference play.