GREENSBORO, N.C. – UNCG men’s soccer freshman midfielder Matteo Busio (Greensboro, N.C./Western Guilford) picked the perfect time to score his first career goal as Busio notched the game-winning goal in the 95th minute of play to lead the Spartans to a 2-1 overtime victory over defending Southern Conference regular season champion Mercer Tuesday night at the UNCG Soccer Stadium in the league opener for both teams.
“Our guys deserved a great win like this,” head coach Justin Maullin said. “We have had some unlucky results the last week and getting this winner to open league play is very rewarding for our players. This starts us off on the right foot in conference play and capping it off with a great goal by Matteo for the first of his career is brilliant.”
The Spartans (5-4-1, 1-0-0 SoCon) controlled play from the start of the overtime period, looking for the clinching goal. Just over four minutes into the extra period, Busio took the ball near midfield and made a Mercer defender miss as he kicked it through his legs. The move shot Busio off to the races down the middle of the field as the defenders were on their heels. He approached the 18-yard box and ripped a shot from 22-yards out that sailed past Mercer goalkeeper Jeremy Booth and into the side netting for the game-winning goal and the fist goal of his collegiate career, setting off the Spartans’ celebration.
Senior goalkeeper Logan Rohde (Cary, N.C./Greensboro College) picked up the victory as he finished with four saves, including some pivotal stops down the stretch in the second half. Rohde may have had the biggest play of the game in the 88th minute of play as he stopped reigning SoCon Freshman of the Year Will Bagrou on a clear breakaway to preserve the tie in regulation.
With the win, the Spartans are unbeaten in their last five SoCon openers, posting a 3-0-2 record in those games. Additionally, the goal tonight by Mercer marked the first goal allowed by the Spartans in a league opener during that five-game stretch, a span of 462:39 of shutout soccer.
The Spartans jumped out to the early lead in the league opener, finding the back of the net just 3:07 into the game. Senior midfielder Ben Burdon (Charlotte, N.C./High Point) stole the ball from a Mercer midfielder and made a long run down the right-hand side. Burdon got past a defender and sent a low cross to the top of the six-yard box. Senior forward Jacques Francois (Port Au Prince, Haiti/Louisburg College) was there to bury the cross into the back of the net past Mercer goalkeeper Jeremy Booth for a 1-0 lead.
Mercer came within inches of tying the game in the eighth minute of play off a corner kick. The Spartans cleared the initial try to the top of the 18-yard box but Jordan Duru ripped a shot through traffic that was goal-bound. Freshman midfielder Leeroy Maguraushe (Milton Keynes, England/Stantonbury) was positioned perfectly on the goal line and cleared the shot off to keep the Bears off the board.
The Spartans had their own near-miss in the 18th minute of action in the 18th minute of play off a free kick. Busio sent a perfect ball into the box where sophomore defender Eric Gunnarsson (Falkenberg, Sweden) flicked it towards goal. Booth made a sprawling save and got enough of the shot to push it off the goal post, keeping it a one-goal game.
Senior midfielder Noah DeAngelo (Burlington, N.C.//Bishop McGuiness) had another chance in the 32nd minute of play off another free kick. The initial kick went off the Mercer wall and ricocheted to the top of the 18-yard box. DeAngelo made a move and struck a bending shot over the head of Booth but it sailed over the cross bard before dipping below and out of play.
Mercer came out at the halftime break and had a prime chance in the 49th minute of play. Ian Antley made a run through the Spartans defense and ripped a shot from 15-yards out that Rohde was able to smother to keep the Spartans in the lead.
The Bears would tie the game in the 63rd minute of play as UNCG was whistled for a foul in the box, awarding a penalty kick to Mercer. Antley stepped up to the spot and buried his penalty kick for his fourth goal of the year, tying the game at 1-1.
Mercer came close to taking the lead in the 82nd minute of play as Bagrou took advantage of a UNCG turnover. He drove in on a partial breakaway and ripped a shot from 15-yards out but Rohde was there to stand tall. UNCG had a chance just seconds later as Maguraushe had a go from 18-yards out that Booth was there to knock down. Bagrou again had the final chance of regulation with his breakaway attempt in the 88th minute of play but Rohde made the crucial save to give the Spartans the chance for victory.
UNCG returns to action Saturday afternoon as it travels to rival Furman. Game time in Greenville is set for 2:30 p.m. and marks the Spartans’ first road game in league play this year.