CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. – A new era of Virginia Commonwealth University Men's Soccer began Friday night as first-year Head Coach Dave Giffard led his new-look Rams against defending national champion University of Virginia.
With 18 newcomers and a squad that boasts 23 players with at least two years of eligibility remaining, including 18 freshmen and sophomores, it will clearly take time for the Rams to become cohesive unit. But in its first game against live competition, and after just three days of training with the entire squad, the back line held a potent Virginia offense to just a single goal as VCU dropped its exhibition opener 1-0 to the Cavaliers at Klockner Stadium.
"It was exciting to get out there and get running against a team like Virginia, who are the defending national champions," Giffard said. "We were anxious to test ourselves against another team. In order to get the exposure and to work on the areas that we need to improve, you have to play the best. Our hope [by playing Virginia and Akron in the preseason] is to get a realistic picture of where we are in this process. It will give us a good barometer of what we have to do over the next several months to get us where we want to be."
UVa managed three shots in the first 30 minutes of action and nearly went ahead less than 10 minutes into the match. Sean Murnane fed a pass in the box to Brian Ownby but VCU goalkeeper Josh Pantazelos made a running stop in what proved to be the Cavaliers' only true threat in the first stanza.
Pantazelos came up with another diving stop two minutes into the second period as Bates again drove the right sideline and fired a point-blank strike. Less than a minute later, the Rams countered following a free kick deep inside Virginia territory. Jose Carlos Castillo lifted a strike in front of the goal but Jake Van Yahres' (right) shot slid just to the left of the net.
Murnane continued to be a factor for the Cavaliers as his shot in the 36th minute hit the crossbar before Ari Dimas eventually came through with the game-winning strike for Virginia in the 53rd minute. Ahkeel Rodney intercepted a pass in the right corner and sent a cross into the box where Dimas slid a shot into the lower left corner to give the Cavaliers a 1-0 advantage.
"I think we did have some confidence in moments today and that's going to continue to improve," said Giffard. "But for our first day out I thought we did a lot of things well."
It doesn't get much easier for VCU as the Rams travel to 2009 NCAA Runner-Up University of Akron on Aug. 25 for its final exhibition match. VCU opens the 2010 regular season slate with a home contest against Florida Gulf Coast in the Richmond Mariott Classic presented by Adidas on Sept. 4.