By Matt Ensor, Graduate Assistant from VCU's Center for Sport Leadership

The Virginia Commonwealth University Men's Soccer preseason schedule featured elite-level exhibitions against the two teams from last year's NCAA Championship match, Akron and Virginia. These two games gave the coaching staff the chance to see where the Rams stack up heading into the season.

"We wanted to challenge ourselves and see where we are as a team and as a program," said first-year Head Coach Dave Giffard. We also wanted to see where we were compared to the best teams in the country."

This year's squad, featuring 18 new faces, has battled the best the NCAA has to offer and walked away showing growth, according to Giffard. Now they are ready to bring the new brand of soccer to Sports Backers Stadium.

Senior captains Thomas Hupper and C.J. Gehin-Scott (pictured, right) will provide leadership to the new-look Rams this season.  The duo's presence on and off the field has been evident from day one. 

"First of all they're exemplary student-athletes," Giffard said. "They're very honest, they bought into the mentality of the things we preach here full-force. They're guys we would love to have longer."

Behind Hupper and Gehin-Scott is a supporting cast of young players also ready to begin a new era of VCU Soccer. Nine of the team's newcomers saw action in the two exhibition games, four of which were freshmen.

Part of the youth movement is rookie Jason Johnson, who played 64 minutes and 71 minutes, respectively, against Virginia and Akron.

The Rams will be on display at Sports Backers Stadium on Saturday night as VCU entertains Florida Gulf Coast at 7:30 p.m. It's a style of play the coaching staff believes in and is eager to show the fans.

"We're going to come out and play the game the way I think it should be played," Giffard added. "We're going to open up, connect passes, get after you, and we're going to attack."

Saturday's match-up against FGCU will also be the Rams' first home opener under Giffard and his assistants Brett Teach and Ryan Pratt. The team wants the game to be the first step in making Sports Backers Stadium a tough place to play.

Giffard ultimately considers the opportunity as a chance for the team to say: "This is who we are. This is what we look like, and this is VCU Soccer."