There is no cheering in the press box
Even if your only connection to sports journalism is through Twitter, chances are that you are well aware of that rule. Everybody knows it’s a no-no.
So why, during the Virginia men’s soccer team’s riveting 1-0 home win against Duke on Friday night, did I have to be reminded — albeit discreetly by a friend — of this long-standing contract that we in the media tacitly agree to when we enter press-row?
I blame these Cavaliers (2-2, 1-0 ACC). There’s just something about them that is endearing and magnetic and reduces me to my base form: a fan.
Now, don’t get me wrong, most of the time I’m good and quiet — especially if you’re comparing it to when I don’t sit with the press and am left to my own devices.
But sometimes I can’t help it. Sometimes, this squad gets me so engrossed and captivated that they induce furtive fist-pumps after good plays, clandestine hair pulling after near misses and mumbled invectives aimed toward officials following bad calls.
Maybe it’s because the Cavaliers have already shown the penchant for producing thrilling, heart attack inducing games. Two of their first four contests went to overtime and all of them were decided by one goal. Maybe it’s because they play with relentless energy and an unbridled enthusiasm, and never seem to take plays off for momentary repose or get discouraged by adversity.
Maybe, it’s simply that with such a young roster — Virginia started nine underclassmen against Duke — the team’s continual improvements are actually tangible from game to game, or sometimes even sequence to sequence, and yet their potential is still nowhere near fully tapped.
Whatever it is, it was all on display against the Blue Devils (1-3, 0-1 ACC) Friday night in front of 4,230 spectators at Klöckner Stadium, the largest crowd since 2009. The win — Virginia’s first at home against Duke since 2005 — proved to be a statement game for the inexperienced Cavaliers.
“It’s a big win,” sophomore midfielder Chris Somerville said. “It shows everybody in the ACC we’re serious. We’re a young team, but we’re serious. You know we’re going to be competitive.”
Through the Cavaliers first four games — all coming against opponents who were ranked at some point this season — they have shown that, if nothing else, they will certainly compete.
That was evident from the opening minutes on Friday, when redshirt senior tri-captain Ari Dimas — a fearless veteran sparkplug for Virginia in the midfield — made an aggressive run with the ball down the center of the pitch. Before Dimas could get a shot off, though, a much larger Blue Devil defender impeded his path and sent the midfielder flipping through the air, producing an audible gasp from the audience. The gasps quickly turned to cheers, however, after Dimas indomitably popped back onto his feet, galvanizing his teammates.
The Cavaliers kept up the strong attacking play early, controlling possession and tempo en route to a 6-2 shot and 3-0 corner advantage in the first half. The game remained scoreless at the break, though, because of a very experienced and talented Duke defense that featured two-preseason All-
American’s — junior center back Sebastien Ibeagha, and senior goalkeeper James Belshaw.
“I think we did a good job of keeping the ball,” coach George Gelnovatch said. “However, [Duke was] very tough to break down. They were tenacious, strong, athletic. They move well [and] they close well.”
The Cavaliers did not become disheartened after their first-half efforts went for naught, though, and continued their methodical attack in the second period. Propelled by senior tri-captain forward Will Bates — who entered into the game in the 34th minute and is still working himself into shape after missing part of last season due to a knee injury — the Cavaliers were finally able to cash in on an opportunity in the 58th minute.
The play began when sophomore midfielder Eric Bird found Somerville curving his run in behind the Duke defense on the left wing. Somerville then crossed the ball into the middle of the box for Bates, but a Duke defender’s foot changed its destination.
Fortuitously, freshman midfielder Marcus Salandy-Defour ended up with the ball near the right post. With one Duke defender attempting to guard two Cavaliers, Salandy-Defour shrewdly tapped it to Bates, who one-touched a shot into the back of the net to give Virginia the lead.
“It was kind of just a scramble around,” Bates said. “The defender was kind of split between us two. [Salandy-Defour] picked me out, put me in a good spot. My thing was just to put it on target and it ended up being a pretty clinical finish.”
The game’s most impressive unit, however, may have been the Cavalier defense, which set a physical tone throughout the contest and rarely let Duke have any real opportunities to score. Fortified by redshirt junior midfielder Sean Murnane — the Cavaliers’ third captain and the defensive starting unit’s only upperclassman — Virginia’s defense held Duke to six shots, only two of which were on goal and none of which seriously threatened sophomore goalkeeper Spencer LaCivita.
The unit showed great resiliency after both Murnane and freshman defender Zach Carroll had to exit the game with injuries in the second half. Sophomore Grant Silvester and junior Kevin McBride filled the vacancies seamlessly, though, as the Cavaliers continually held off late efforts from the Blue Devils to equalize.
“The defense was huge,” Somerville said. “They were clutch, two guys coming off our bench and just making clutch plays.”
It was an impressive win for a young team and a propitious start to their ACC season. And even with the sizable crowd, I still urge more students to come out and watch this team play. I am forced in silence to live vicariously through your cheering.