Indiana 2

[Photos by Todd Turner]

The last time this UNCG Men’s Soccer squad lost a game, it was September. That one, a 1-0 shootout against Campbell, was something of a heartbreaker: After trailing at the half, the Spartans were unable to capitalize on seven shots on goal. They went down swinging, anyway.

This most recent loss, on Saturday, came in the quarterfinals of the NCAA Tournament, a 2-0 grapple against Indiana, the same day the US Men’s National Team got knocked out of the World Cup.

And just as with the US national team, there’s a long story behind the Spartans’ season-ending loss.

Soccer is a game of speed and angles, of missed opportunities and resets, of momentum shifts and set shots. In this way, soccer’s scoring system is inadequate in relating the narrative behind a match, let alone an entire season.

With no football team and an ambitious but struggling basketball program, soccer is UNCG’s signature sport, with both men’s and women’s teams winning numerous accolades over the years. It’s the sport they play at UNCG Homecoming, and the program’s most famous alumni, Alejandro Moreno of Venezuela (Class of 2001), played professionally for 10 years and for seven years on the Venezuelan Men’s National Team before becoming a commentator on ESPN. More than 20 UNCG men’s players have gone on to careers in pro soccer since the 1980s.

The current UNCG squad alone is a microcosm of the global game. About half of the 27-man roster come to Greensboro from countries other than the United States: Italy, England, Japan, South Africa, Ghana, Spain, two from Germany, three from France. Conversely, one player from the Indiana team, midfielder Patrick McDonald, is from Greensboro.

The 2-0 final score does not measure the success the Greensboro squad saw this year, winning the SoCon title with a regular-season record of 13 wins and just that single loss to Campbell, how they barreled through the first round of the SoCon Tournament with a 6-goal win against Furman, or how their first two wins in the NCAA tournament, against Ohio State and Stanford, came on penalty kicks after regulation had expired.

UNCG went further in the NCAA tournament than just about every other North Carolina team in a cohort that included UNC-Chapel Hill, Elon, High Point University and Wake Forest. Duke also advanced to the quarterfinal, where they lost to Creighton the same day UNCG was knocked out.

And there’s no way of knowing, in looking at the box score, that it’s been almost 40 years since UNCG Men’s Soccer went this far — the team had a spectacular run in the 1980s, winning the title in 1982, 1983, 1985, 1986 and 1987, and finishing as a runner-up in 1989. All of those honors came when UNCG was still in the poorly named Dixie Conference, in Division III and then in Division II. This year’s effort was the furthest the Spartans have gotten in tournament play since entering Division I in 1992.

On the night of the game, stands at UNCG Soccer Stadium teemed with students and faculty, alumni and their kids, a full house on a cool December Saturday evening. And in the end, the loss didn’t feel that much like a loss at all, despite the final score.

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