Nov. 21, 2016

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By Jeff White (

CHARLOTTESVILLE — The seniors on the University of Virginia men’s soccer team have been to two College Cups — the second of which produced the program’s seventh NCAA title — and they’d love to play in another before leaving the University.

The 12th-seeded Cavaliers moved a step closer Sunday, rallying for a 2-1 victory over Vermont in the NCAA tournament’s second round at frigid Klöckner Stadium.

Now comes a third-round date with Stanford, which entered the 64-team NCAA tournament as the No. 5 seed.

In their first meeting since 1998, the 12th-seeded Cavaliers (11-3-5) and the Cardinal (12-3-4) will clash next Sunday at 8 p.m. Eastern in Stanford, Calif., with the winner advancing to the NCAA quarterfinals.

“I’ve been to two College Cups and won a national championship, and that’s something that I certainly can draw on [in the postseason],” UVA senior Paddy Foss said. “But it also makes you hungry. Those College Cup experiences are once in a lifetime. I feel very lucky and blessed to have two under my belt, and you definitely want to go for that third, and I think this team’s capable of it.”

Foss, a midfielder, was one of the heroes of UVA’s victory over Vermont on an afternoon marked by severe winds.

After falling behind 1-0 in the 62nd minute, Virginia tied the game in the 76th on a perfectly placed free kick by Foss from about 25 yards out.

“There’s a little bit of wind going on today, so I tried to take that into consideration,” Foss said. “But I just wanted to get it up over the wall, and luckily I hit it well. It definitely did what I wanted it to do, and that’s hit the net.”

In the 64th minute, Charlie DeFeo had been sent off with his second yellow card, leaving the Catamounts (14-7-1) a man down, after which the `Hoos dominated possession. Still, the score remained 1-1 through the end of the regulation, and neither team scored in the first 10-minute overtime period.

Had the second OT ended without a golden goal, a penalty-kick shootout would have followed.

“We didn’t want it to go to PKs,” UVA head coach George Gelnovatch said.

“Anything can happen in PKs,” UVA midfielder Pablo Aguilar said.

Aguilar, a redshirt junior from Guatemala, left nothing to chance. In the 103rd minute, he supplied a breathtaking goal, dribbling through four Vermont defenders and then, with his right foot, sending the ball past goalkeeper Aaron Runarsson and into the net, just inside the right post.

“Honestly, when I got the ball, I saw the opportunity that presented itself,” said Aguilar, who leads the `Hoos with seven goals this season. “I saw a little hole between the two center backs.”

Aguilar has scored the game-winning goal in each of Virginia’s past three victories: Oct. 28 against Duke, Nov. 2 against N.C. State and, now, against Vermont. He’s probably the Cavaliers’ most creative player, and the more Vermont, playing a man down, tired Sunday, “the more he could start pulling off some of his stuff,” Gelnovatch said, “and I think that’s what you saw.”

The Catamounts are “a tough team to play against,” Gelnovatch said, “a tough team to break down, and it took a strong mental toughness and perseverance for us to get that tying goal. And once we got the tying goal, I was pretty sure we’d get the second one.”

For Foss, what may turn out to have been his final game at Klöckner Stadium was one he won’t soon forget.

In 2014, Foss converted a penalty kick in the shootout that lifted Virginia past UCLA in the NCAA championship game, and in 2015 he started 17 games and contributed two goals and five assists. The video of one of those goals, a free kick from beyond midfield against Louisville at Klöckner, went viral last fall.

This season, his role has been much smaller, but his impact was enormous Sunday. Almost from the moment Foss entered the game in the 67th minute, he provided a palpable jolt of energy to a team in a precarious position.

“Not only with the goal, but some of the crosses,” Gelnovatch said. “And I thought the game suited him, because once they went down a man and we had them in their half of the field, I thought that was a good time for Paddy, and sure enough it was.”

Foss said: “This season’s been a little bit of a roller-coaster for me. It’s been tough getting into that new role. But in a game like today, it’s postseason and anything can happen. I still very much see myself as a leader of this team, so whatever role I’m put in, I need to be the leader. Today I was happy to get on the score sheet, but more importantly, I think, spark the team and have some of that leadership aspect.”

To be trailing late in the second half of an NCAA tournament game is challenging, Foss acknowledged.

“You go down in this kind of game,” he said, “there’s a half-hour left in your season, and if we don’t get a goal, it’s done and we’re watching for Thanksgiving again, which is not a good feeling. It’s do or die. Once they put that goal in, there was definitely some urgency.”

Virginia finished with 13 shots, only one of which came in the first half. Playing into a stiff wind that affected airborne shots and passes, the `Hoos took a conservative approach.

“I think we just wanted to be cautious with the wind in the first half and keep possession and not get into a situation where they’re dropping balls on top of us,” Gelnovatch said. “I would have much rather have had the ball and not be dangerous in the first half, and I think that kind of was our mentality.”

For medical reasons, Virginia played without freshman Robin Afamefuna and junior Bay Kurtz, who have started 17 and 16 games on defense this season, respectively. Gelnovatch inserted redshirt junior Sheldon Sullivan in Afamefuna’s place at left back and moved freshman Terrell Lowe from defensive midfielder to Kurtz’s spot at right back.

Up top, freshman forward Raheem Taylor-Parkes made his first start as a Cavalier.

“It was a really tough game,” Aguilar said. “Vermont did well. They’re a really good team, but I think we did well to manage the game, to get the tie and win it in overtime and not go to PKs.”

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