Virginia men’s football will visit ranked third in Syracuse on Saturday and face off at 7pm for their third ACC game of the season.
The Cavaliers (5-3-0, 1-1-0 ACC) intend to cause a monstrous surprise in the best team in the country. Orange (7-0-1, 2-0-0 ACC) have three wins over ranked teams already this season, most recently beating the best Clemson Tigers on the road last Friday.
Syracuse’s other ranked wins were against then-21 ranked Penn State on August 28 and then-22 ranked Notre Dame on September 10.
Virginia is coming off a 2-0 home win over the American, but will certainly still have the last second 2-1 loss to Notre Dame in your mind.
One important thing to keep in mind for Virginia is the environment she will face. In eight games, the Cavaliers played seven games at home and one game on neutral ground. Being mindful of Syracuse fans and a potentially noisy, low-capacity SU Soccer Stadium will be important as Virginia prepares for this showdown.
In addition to potentially facing the NCAA number 1 ranked team on the road, the Cavaliers will be hungry for revenge. dropped to Syracuse 3-1 last year in Charlottesville. If they manage to cause the upset, this game could serve as a turning point in the Virginia season as the ACC game begins to kick in.
Top players to watch
For the Cavaliers, junior striker Leo Afonso will continue to act as the leader of the attack. Afonso’s ability to make quick plays into the area and distribute when necessary will be important in breaking through Syracuse’s defense, which has only conceded two goals in eight games this season.
Additionally, both rookie quarterback Reese Miller and sophomore forward Kome Ubogu have been excellent for Virginia so far this season. Ubogu, who was second on the team in goals and points last season, has already surpassed his goal tally from last year. Ubogu scored four goals in 15 games last season and leads the Cavaliers with five goals in just eight games this year.
Ubogu came on as a substitute in every game he played, but he continues to score without slowing down.
Miller has shown incredible growth in just six games this season. Miller was placed at left-back as a rookie and has started five games. His hustle and ability to extend plays gave the Cavaliers several extra opportunities in critical passages of the game.
For Orange, forward Levonte Johnson and second striker Nathan Opoku led the charge. The pair have recorded three goals and four assists so far this season.
Senior goalkeeper Russell Shealy has been near perfect at the net this season for Syracuse, allowing two goals and recording 19 saves with a 0.905 save percentage.
How Virginia can cause the upset
To take down Orange, Virginia will need to find creative ways to confuse Syracuse’s defense.
The combination between midfielder Daniel Mangarov, striker Philip Horton and Afonso could be crucial to achieving a decisive goal. Although it has only allowed two goals so far this season, Syracuse has won four games by just one goal, including wins against Clemson, Niagara, Notre Dame and Penn State. A goal could be decisive on Saturday night.
Controlling the midfield through Mangarov and midfielder Axel Ahlander will also be important for Virginia, both in slowing the pace of play and preventing escape chances for Johnson and Opoku for Syracuse.
The Oranges like to shoot, as they average 17 shots per game. Stopping Syracuse from shooting and potentially getting a jump will also be a focus point for Virginia.
Coach George Gelnovatch hinted at the showdown that awaits the Cavaliers after their win over the American on Tuesday.
“I feel like the team’s confidence levels are high, we’re scoring goals and creating good opportunities, so there’s real confidence in ourselves as we get ready to hit the road,” said Gelnovatch.
The game starts at 7pm on Saturday and will be broadcast live on ACC Network Extra.