Short-handed Cavs try to tame Dragons
Virginia hosts Drexel Tuesday after losing co-captain, injured starters
The Virginia men’s soccer team looks to overcome a suddenly short-handed roster as it closes out a six-game homestand against Drexel Tuesday night.
Last Friday, the Cavaliers (3-2-1, 1-0 ACC) relinquished a late lead against then-No. 19 Xavier after senior Xavier midfielder Gino de Paoli scored on a perfectly placed free kick in the 85th minute.
The late equalizer sent Virginia into sudden-death overtime for the third time this season. The previous two occasions — against No. 12 Georgetown and No. 13 UCLA — both ended in losses.
Virginia held on for a 1-1 tie against Xavier, however — a positive step for a young team that started nine underclassmen.
“You always want to win,” coach George Gelnovatch said. “But you take a step back, we’ve been in this situation three times now and this time we didn’t find a way to beat ourselves … it’s a tie and it’s not the greatest thing but at least we didn’t beat ourselves.”
The young Cavaliers became even younger Monday, when the NCAA ruled that senior co-captain Ari Dimas had exhausted his varsity eligibility and could not compete for the remainder of the 2012 season.
To compound the loss of Dimas, the Cavaliers have also dealt with a score of injuries in recent weeks, culminating with sophomore forward Chris Somerville exiting the game against Xavier with a knee injury 14 minutes into the contest. In the matchup against Duke two weeks ago, freshman Zach Carroll and redshirt junior captain Sean Murnane, both defensive starters for the contest, left in the second half with leg injuries. Murnane returned on Friday to see limited action — only eight minutes — but Carroll has yet to get back on the pitch.
Finally, sophomore midfielder Ryan Zinkhan went down with a hamstring injury in last Tuesday’s contest against Mount Saint Mary’s and did not play against Xavier Friday.
These absences have created opportunities for several less-heralded Cavaliers to step into their roles. Freshman Todd Wharton and junior Kevin McBride have rotated into the starting defensive unit.
“[Injuries are] the reality of the season,” senior captain Will Bates said. “It’s just an open door for someone else. It’s an opportunity … the guys have been doing a good job and making the most of it.”
The good news for the Cavaliers is that sophomore defender Kyler Sullivan, who missed most of the early games of the season while suffering from mono, returned to the starting lineup Friday. Sullivan, however, did not get a chance to ease back into the swing of things. He played all 110 minutes of the game and was often forced to shadow Musketeer star senior Luke Spencer.
Spencer, a 6-foot-2-inch, athletically built forward, entered the game leading the NCAA with six goals. Sullivan put the clamps on Spencer all game as he allowed him to get off only one shot, showcasing how important his return could be for the depleted Cavalier defense.
“I think Kyler did a good job,” Gelnovatch said. “He adds a lot of athleticism out there for us … this was a tough run for him to come back and play both regulation and overtime not having played in a while and I think he handled himself pretty well.”
Virginia will have another tough challenge Tuesday night when it welcomes Drexel to Klöckner Stadium. The Dragons (3-1-1) have the luxury of a veteran team with nine seniors and nine juniors.
Although Drexel did not have an exceptionally strong campaign last year, it ended its season on a high note with wins against then-No. 12 James Madison and a tie with then-No. 16 Old Dominion. The Dragons have exhibited an impressively balanced attack this season. Sophomore midfielder Matheus Gonclaves leads the squad with two goals scored, and seven other Drexel players follow closely behind him, all having notched a goal apiece.
Sophomore Fabio Machado has been the heart of the Dragon attack, leading the team with six total points. The forward had tallied at least one point in each of the team’s first four games before being kept off the scoresheet in a 1-0 win over Lafayette Wednesday.
Gelnovatch knows that with an arduous early season schedule, each game will be a challenge for the Cavaliers.
“The whole idea behind this schedule was to play good games and play them early so that we can benefit from them at the end,” Gelnovatch said. “I think I got the message to these guys, the way I put the schedule together this year, you need to show up and play everyday.”
Kickoff Tuesday is at 7 p.m.