RICHMOND – The VCU Men's Soccer program and Head Coach Dave Giffard are coming off their second straight appearance in the Atlantic 10 Championship game, and third in the last five years. Their vision for 2017 is no different, looking to also get back to the NCAA Tournament after a three-year absence. The program released their road back to their goal Thursday afternoon, as they released their schedule for the upcoming 2017 season.
The Rams will feature plenty of good matchups, coming with a balanced non-conference schedule along with their upcoming A-10 slate of games. They will face two of the top offenses in college soccer from 2016, as the schedule will feature last season's number one overall seed in the NCAA Tournament, Maryland, as well as Florida Gulf Coast. Florida Gulf Coast returns Albert Ruiz, who led the NCAA in goals last season with 22 and an offense that also ranked number one in the NCAA with 2.95 goals per game. Maryland ranked second in goals per game in the NCAA with 2.52.
"I really like this schedule. I feel like there is a good balance in it, in both non-conference and conference games," said Head Coach Dave Giffard. "I think that each and every team on the schedule presents a different challenge. You have some historically good programs that are typically in the NCAA Tournament every year, and you have some schools who have made some new hires that will do quite well. We should be able to look back and say that was a good game for us. Overall, looking at the schedule, there are a lot of good, quality teams that will each test us in their own way."
VCU will open their season with a pair of exhibitions, first against Georgetown, who was in the NCAA Championship game in 2012, at Sportsbackers Stadium on August 15. That will be followed by a road exhibition matchup against ACC opponent Pittsburgh on August 19. They will open their regular season, starting on August 25 with four straight home games, coming against Oakland, Appalachian State, Iona, and St. Francis. Oakland is a top contender to win the Horizon League in 2017 after winning the league in 2014 and 2015, while St. Francis has played in the NEC Championship game the last three seasons. Both Appalachian State and Iona are teams that will put pressure on their leagues in clinching an NCAA bid this season.
In addition to their four straight home games, the Rams will endure a stretch of four non-conference away games in a row will span about a month away from Richmond. They will hit an east coast swing south of RVA, as they will square off against Florida Gulf Coast, who ended 2016 ranked 20th in the country, Old Dominion, Coastal Carolina, who saw time around the top 25 in 2016, and former CAA rival, UNC Wilmington.
"It will be good. Each of the games are all against NCAA Tournament-type teams. We were able to stretch it out a bit so we could get our players a few extra days in between games to physically recover and train in there," said Giffard. "We tried to open the schedule up a little bit so there is some time in there and not squeeze so many games into a short amount of time. So those games will give us a chance to go out on the road to a likely NCAA Tournament team and compete as each will bring a different challenge and hopefully strengthen our resume for an NCAA Tournament at-large bid."
The Black and Gold will open their A-10 slate on October 4 when they play host to Davidson at Sportsbackers Stadium. The Rams will also host Saint Louis, George Washington, and Rhode Island as their remaining conference opponents, while they will hit the road for Fordham, who the Rams faced in the A-10 final last season, George Mason, and Saint Joseph's. They will wrap up their Atlantic 10 season with a road game in Olean, N.Y. at St. Bonaventure. Senior Day is currently slated for Saturday, October 28 against Rhode Island at 7 p.m. at Sportsbackers.
"In the A-10 having a situation where you don't play everyone, I think we got eight good games this year," said Giffard. "Between being home and away, we see some stronger teams in the league so that can only be positive. Again, each will give us a different challenge not just on the field, but their facilities, travel, and some other pieces that go with going to these other locations."
Among the flurry that is the A-10 slate, the Rams square off against Maryland on the road in the middle of their A-10 schedule at College Park on Tuesday, October 24 at 7 p.m. in a non-conference matchup. The Terrapins return almost all of their starting lineup from 2016, and are a threat to win the NCAA Championship in 2017. They held the number one ranking in the country for multiple weeks, and were also the number one overall seed in the NCAA Tournament last season.
Giffard stated, "I think having an opportunity to, on paper, play the returning favorite for the national championship late in the year like that, gets you amped back up as you get ready to enter the postseason. I think every conference across the country as you get into conference play, games are little different – they are a little tighter, a little more tactical. I think every team has a way to beat every other team, and to put in a game like that to give a little change of pace near the end as we enter postseason play, it will be wide open and a lot of fun in front of a large crowd."