The Elon University men’s soccer team concluded its regular season with a 4-3 win over the University of North Carolina at Greensboro in a wildly entertaining, back-and-forth game at Rudd field.
The Phoenix faced two separate two-goal deficits, including being down 3-1 with 30 minutes remaining in the game. Yet the resilient Phoenix found a way to beat their close rival and give their five seniors the chance to play one more game at home.
“Overall, I thought our guys fought to the very end, which is part of their makeup,” said Phoenix head coach Darren Powell. “To be down three times over the course of the game and to keep fighting back speaks volumes to the character and resilience of our guys.”
It appeared that the two teams would go into the half tied at zero, but UNCG senior midfielder Oddur Gudmundsson was able to beat Phoenix junior goalkeeper Nathan Dean from 10 yards out to give his team a 1-0 lead.
“In a half that is so even, you really want to focus on not conceding a goal and seeing the half out and getting in the locker room,” said senior midfielder Daniel Lovitz. “It was a punch right in the gut right as we were getting ready to head into the locker room. Those are the crucial times of the game when you don’t want to concede a goal.”
The Spartans picked up where they left off in the second, scoring a minute into the second half on Gudmundsson’s second goal of the game. Sophomore midfielder Lukas Zargas crossed a free kick into the Phoenix box that found the head of Gudmundsson and gave the Spartans the first of their two goal leads.
“After any goal we concede we can look around and make eye contact with each other and know what needs to happen without even saying anything,” Lovitz said. “We knew someone was going to have to step up and make something happen and that’s what happened on the first goal by (sophomore forward) Caue (Da Silva).”
It was less than a minute after the Spartans second goal that Da Silva scored on a bicycle kick from just inside the box to cut the Spartans lead to 2-1.
In the 57th minute, Zargas scored the Spartan’s third goal of the game. The midfielder took a pass from forward Hill Gwynn and took a shot from the top of the Phoenix box that beat Dean and put Greensboro up 3-1.
But, junior forward Jason Waterman scored the first of his two second half goals in the 61st minute after intercepting a pass from midfield that was intended for Spartans sophomore goalkeeper Stephen Moffitt. Waterman beat Moffitt to the ball, dribbled past him and tapped the ball into the empty goal to bring his team back to within one.
Fourteen minutes later in the 75th minute, sophomore midfielder James Brace deflected a Waterman cross past Moffitt into goal to complete his team’s comeback.
Then, in a fitting conclusion to a night in which he carried his team’s offensive load for much of the game, Waterman clinched the Phoenix’s victory in the 87th minute on a shot he floated over Moffitt from 16 yards out into the left hand corner of goal.
“We’ve learned a big lesson that we can come back in these kind of games if we don’t give up,” Dean said. “And that’s going to be really important moving forward as we come to a really difficult stage of the season.”
Although the back line struggled to contain the Spartans high-powered offense, Dean said he sees no need to need to worry about the back line’s struggles.
“(Giving up three goals) isn’t a big issue for us, it’s just we need to make sure we’re really focused at the start of halves,” Dean said. “I don’t think (our defense) is a major problem, we know what we’re doing. It happens sometimes. We know we’re very capable in the back.”
The win moved the Phoenix to 13-4-1 overall, and their 4-2 record in conference play is enough to vault the Phoenix over the Spartans and into the second seed for next week’s Southern Conference Championship. As one of the tournament’s top seeds, the Phoenix will host a first round game against the No. 7 seed Appalachian State University.
In a league with as much parity as the Southern Conference has, a home game is immeasurably important to Powell and his team.
“This league is always wide open,” Powell said. “Every year, every team is very good. So to get a home seed is something we’re very excited about because it allows us to use our regular routine and preparation heading into the game.”