CARY, N.C. – There was chaos in the box in the 82nd minute of the ACC men’s soccer championship match after Virginia’s Daniel Steedman lofted a corner kick into Clemson’s penalty area. A Clemson player fell over and Virginia’s Cabrel Happi Kamseu got spun around, but somehow got a touch on the ball, making it bounce between Clemson’s goalkeeper and the near post for the go-ahead score. The Cavaliers, ecstatic, celebrated.
“I don’t know, to be honest,” Kamseu said of his goal. “The guy just slashed past me and I saw the ball come in and I just knew I had to get my foot on it. I think it was my shin.”
Kamseu’s shot would prove to be the game-winner on a chilly Sunday at WakeMed Soccer Park, as the No. 2 Virginia Cavaliers topped the No. 1 Clemson Tigers 3-1 for the ACC championship in front of an announced crowd of 1,330 fans.
With the victory, Virginia (17-1-1) captured its 16th ACC title and its extended its current winning streak to six games.
“Trophies like this are pretty difficult to win. I think if you speak to all of the coaches in our conference, the only thing just a little bit sweeter is a national championship,” Virginia head coach George Gelnovatch said. “It’s really, really hard to do. I’m proud not only winning it, but the fashion that we did it, coming from behind, showing a lot of guts.”
The game was a match-up of the best offense and the top defense in the country. Clemson (16-1-2) had a goals-scored per-game average of 3.56, but Virginia was allowing just 0.327 goals per-match — both of which are marks that lead all of Division I college soccer. The Cavaliers had notched 13 clean sheets on the year, while Clemson had scored multiple goals in every game this season except two.
But on Sunday, Virginia had more firepower on offense and was more stout defensively than Clemson.
That corner was beautiful. 😍
— ACC Men's Soccer (@ACCMSoccer) November 17, 2019
“It’s a final. So, in any final, it’s going to be really aggressive. Especially with (Clemson’s) pressure, they come flying, so we knew it was going to be really aggressive,” said Virginia defender Henry Kessler, who was named the tournament’s MVP. “And from our standpoint… We were going to fight.”
The Tigers got on the scoreboard first, scoring on a blast from James Brighton’s right boot. The ball came into the box in the 19th minute on a corner kick from Kimarni Smith, and Malick Mbaye got to it first, steering the ball toward the goal with his head. Virginia’s Colin Shutler stopped the shot, but couldn’t gobble it up before Brighton followed up on the rebound for his sixth goal of the season.
— ACC Men's Soccer (@ACCMSoccer) November 17, 2019
Even without junior midfielder Joe Bell – who was in Europe playing in friendlies with the New Zealand senior national team – Virginia didn’t struggle to create goal scoring opportunities. Bell has tallied three goals and four assists this season and many consider him to be one of the top pro prospects in college soccer.
Bell is expected to return to the ‘Hoos for the NCAA tournament, but without him Sunday, Virginia still fired off seven shots in the first half, putting two of their attempts on frame. In all, the ‘Hoos totaled 11 shots, putting five of them on-target. They also had eight corner kicks, which led to two of their goals.
The Cavaliers finally found the back of the net in the 65th minute, thanks to two other international contributors. Off a feed from Tanzania native Irakoze Donasiyano, Swedish forward Axel Gunnarsson outran a defender, then tucked the ball between the near post and Clemson’s diving goalkeeper. It was the first collegiate goal for the 6-foot-1 freshman, who has featured for his country’s youth national teams.
“The first goal, we were out of shape in the back and one of our defenders went to the ground and probably shouldn’t have. Tight angle,” Clemson head coach Mike Noonan said. “The second goal, I think you’ll see in the video that there was a push in the penalty box that wasn’t called that freed up the player.”
Kamseu scored the go-ahead goal for Virginia in the 82nd minute, and then Clemson sealed its own fate in the 83rd minute when Mbaye – the ACC’s Defensive Player of the Year – was given a red card for taking down Virginia’s Daryl Dike in the box, denying the 6-foot-2, 220-pound sophomore a goal-scoring chance. Mbaye was sent off and Robin Afamefuna buried the penalty attempt for the ‘Hoos.
“The third goal was a debacle by our defense,” Noonan said. “(Dike) has the skill, but he’s mobile too. That’s what makes him difficult. He’s not always in the same place… He can get out to the outside and turn players. He’s not slow.”
The match was a chippy one even before Mbaye was sent off. There were 38 fouls called between both teams and four yellow cards handed out.
Next up for both sides is the NCAA tournament. The selection show is set for 1 p.m. ET Monday, and both squads will find out their path to the College Cup Final Four, which will be held on this field in Cary, North Carolina in December.
“That’s going to be the mission now, is to get back here four weeks from now. That’s the ultimate prize,” Gelnovatch said. “Today we got out of here with not only a trophy, but also injury-free, which is massive.”