RICHMOND, Va. – If last year's loaded VCU men's soccer schedule didn't make it clear that Head Coach Dave Giffard likes to challenge his guys with the best competition, this fall's upcoming schedule will solidify that thought.
Coming off its second straight NCAA Tournament appearance, VCU boasts yet again one of the toughest schedules in the country, facing 10 teams from last year's NCAA Tournament field, including five of the top eight national seeds. The Rams will face off against all four teams that advanced to last year's College Cup, including defending National Champion Notre Dame.
"Last year's schedule was the toughest I have ever faced, and for me, the 2014 schedule is a half step better. Our players and fans can expect that each year we will challenge ourselves against the best competition in college soccer," Giffard said. "We've worked very hard over the last four years to put ourselves in a position where we can realistically challenge for a national title, and competition like this is exactly the type of grind that we need to prepare us for that challenge."
VCU opens its fall with an exhibition match in Williamsburg against its first NCAA Tournament squad of the fall, William & Mary, on August 22.
The final weekend in August (29-31) brings the regular season and home opener for the Rams when they take on Fairleigh Dickinson, a 2012 Sweet 16 squad, at Sports Backers Stadium. Two days later, the Rams take on 2013 NCAA Tournament qualifier East Tennessee State.
VCU remains home the following weekend, taking on 2012 Colonial Athletic Association champion Northeastern on Sept.5 and 2011 NCAA Champion and perennial national power North Carolina on Sept. 7.
The Rams hit the road for the first time on Sept. 11 when they travel to 2012 NCAA Finalist Georgetown. Four days later (Sept. 15), VCU heads to Charlottesville to face off against in-state rival and 2013 College Cup participant, Virginia.
The following weekend brings yet another participant in last year's College Cup when the Rams head west to play in the UNM Tournament. VCU will take on Cal St. Bakersfield (Sept. 19) and New Mexico, who has reached the Elite 8 (2012) and College Cup (2013) in each of the past two seasons.
VCU's long-standing rivalry with Old Dominion continues on Friday, Sept. 26 when the Monarchs visit Sports Backers Stadium. Four days later, the Black & Gold head to South Bend to battle reigning NCAA Champion, Notre Dame. It will be the second consecutive season that the Rams have played the reigning national champion.
The final non-conference matchup comes on October 8 when the Rams travel to College Park for the second straight year to take on 2013 NCAA Finalist Maryland.
Reigning Atlantic 10 Champion George Mason visits Sports Backers on October 4 for the first conference match of the season for both squads. Trips to UMass (Oct. 11), Duquesne (Oct. 24), St. Bonaventure (Oct. 26) and George Washington (Nov. 2) provide a tough road conference slate.
Fordham (Oct. 17), La Salle (Oct. 19) and St. Louis (Nov. 7) round out the home conference games. The matchup with 10-time national champion SLU will be the centerpiece of the third annual VCU Soccer Family Weekend. The Saturday following the game, the Rams will host their annual banquet to honor their seniors and welcome back alumni, friends and family.
The regular season won't be the end for soccer at Sports Backers Stadium, however, as the Rams will play host to the 2014 Atlantic 10 Tournament during the second week of November.