RICHMOND, Va. – The VCU Men's Soccer team returned to its winning ways with a 1-0 hard fought victory over visiting George Mason University on a cold evening at Sports Backers Stadium. A season-high 805 fans clad in pink shirts fans passed through the turnstiles at Sports Backers, as tonight's contest was set to raise awareness for the breast cancer courtesy of the VCU Massey Cancer Center.
With the victory, the Rams snap a four-game losing streak and improve to 6-4-0 overall, and 1-1-0 in CAA play. George Mason falls to 4-3-2 overall and 1-1-0 in the CAA.
"I was proud of our guys performance tonight against a very good George Mason team," said VCU Head Coach Dave Giffard. "We attacked and defended with the intensity and effort that we needed to win a tough 1-0 game. The work that we put into training this week showed and this is the type of team performance that we needed."
The Rams controlled play in the first half, as the tream moved ball throughout the pitch, but were unable to come away with a goal in the first 45 minutes of play.
VCU's best chance of the first half came in the 39th minute, when sophomore midfielder Nate Shiffman played a ball in from the right side of the field towards junior midfielder Juan Arbelaez. The Oakwood, Ga., native putraced his defender before collecting the ball and firing a shot just wide of the George Mason net.
At the half, VCU held a 7-4 shots advantage, and earned the half's only three corner kicks.
Sophomore forward Jason Johnson looked to get on the score sheet early in to the second half, as Johnson directed a dangerous shot on frame, which Mason goalkeeper Sean Cote punched away.
The Patriots nearly got on the scoreboard following a misplayed ball in the defensive end by a VCU defender. George Mason's leading scorer Taylor Morgan stripped the ball from the defender and took two touches before placing a shot on frame towards the right side of the goal. VCU goalkeeper Josh Pantazelos dove to his right and deflected the ball wide, followed up by a shot wide from Wesley Sever.
The Birmingham, Ala., native made another great save just four minutes later, this time coming off of a George Mason free kick from just inside the midfield line. Leo Stolz directed a cross towards the middle of the 18-yard box, which Hugh Roberts headed to the right side of the VCU goal, but Pantazelos made a sprawling save to his left and held onto the ball to diffuse the chance for George Mason.
The Rams struck gold in the 72nd minute with the play developing off of a throw-in from freshman midfielder Ragnar Leosson on the left side of the field. Leosson's throw went to the feet of sophomore midfielder Jose Carlos Castillo, who swiftly passed the ball onto Shiffman. Shiffman moved the ball into the open space surrounding junior forward Yoram Mwila. Mwila (pictured right), standing just outside the 18-yard box, took one touch before sending a dipping shot into the lower left corner of the goal. The goal would go on to be the eventual game-winner for the Rams and Mwila's first game-winning tally of the 2011 campaign.
The Rams would survive one last scare in the 79th minute, as dangerous cross from Mason's Verneri Valimaa was punched away by Pantazelos, who would fall to ground in doing so. George Mason's Ryan Gracia pounced on the bouncing ball and one-timed a shot wide of the net.
The Black & Gold controlled the final 10 minutes of play, with members of the Rams connecting passes into open space around the pitch, allowing the VCU to run out the clock and earn the team's sixth victory.
VCU finished with 12 shots in the match, while Mason fired off 10 in the contest; the Rams also held a 5-2 corner kicks advantage.
Pantazelos (pictured right) came away with three saves in the contest to earn his fourth shutout of the season. Cote posted one save in 90 minutes of action for the Patriots.
"Now we need to turn our attention to another very good team in Old Dominion on Wednesday," added Giffard.
The Rams are set to make the trek to Norfolk, Va., this Wednesday for a CAA contest against No. 20-ranked Old Dominion. Kickoff is slated for 7 p.m.