Virginia hits the road to clash with North Carolina
Young group plays season’s first true away game against No. 8 Tar Heels
The Virginia men’s soccer team visits Chapel Hill Friday to clash with No. 8 North Carolina for the team’s first official away game of the season. The only other time Virginia (4-2-1, 1-0-0 ACC) has played away from the friendly confines of Scott Stadium this season was against Georgetown at a neutral site.
Despite the Tar Heels’ (4-1-1. 1-0-1 ACC) top-10 ranking, a win for the Cavaliers would catapult them ahead of North Carolina in the conference standings and possibly move them into the top 25 in the nation. Virginia players know accomplishing such a feat, however, is easier said than done.
After giving up a late goal to Xavier last Friday and settling for a draw, the Cavaliers shut out Drexel 2-0 Tuesday night. Freshman midfielder Todd Wharton scored his first collegiate goal for the Cavaliers in the shutout win, which came on the heels of Virginia’s official announcement that senior co-captain Ari Dimas is ineligible to compete for the remainder of the 2012 season. With several other key players out with injuries, Wharton’s breakthrough and overall quality play are crucial for a team heading into the meat of its conference schedule.
“He had a good game, and he has been very good for us,” head coach George Gelnovatch said of Wharton. “He is one of a bunch of first years who have been stepping up.”
Wharton said the win against Drexel gave the team confidence after tying Xavier. “To come out and really set the tone in this game [against Drexel] was a good test,” he said.
Though senior forward Will Bates, who scored his team-leading fifth goal of the season Tuesday, is the lifeblood of the attack, Gelnovatch has relied on the freshman trio of Wharton — the 2011-2 Gatorade Player of the Year for Virginia — defender Zack Carroll and midfielder Scott Thomsen to supply both goals and stability to his offense. Sophomore forward Chris Somerville, whose two goals tie him with Carroll for second on the team, has also become a near-veteran presence in his second year in Charlottesville.
Gelnovatch praised his offense for taking advantage of the few scoring chances it earned against the Dragons, calling the effort “economical.”
But the Cavaliers will need to create more opportunities against a defensively stout North Carolina to come out on top. The Tar Heels have allowed a paltry two goals in six games so far this year and are unlikely to cede any easy goals to a Virginia team relying on so many inexperienced players.
North Carolina will be aiming to get back on track Friday. Ranked No. 1 entering last week, the Tar Heels fell 1-0 to James Madison before an insipid scoreless tie against Wake Forest.
Spearheading the North Carolina attack is senior midfielder Martin Murphy, who leads his squad with four goals on the campaign so far. 2011 First Team All-ACC goalkeeper senior Scott Goodwin anchors a sturdy defense.
Virginia will also be looking to avenge a 1-0 overtime defeat to North Carolina in last season’s ACC Tournament semifinals. Virginia was outplayed the whole game but managed to keep the score tied before the Tar Heels scored in the first minute of overtime.
To earn a monumental upset while still adjusting to life without Dimas, Virginia will have to dictate the tempo against the Tar Heels — a fact Wharton understands.
“I think just transitioning between offense and defense … we need to make sure we set the tone and not let them control the whole game,” Wharton said.
The game will be played under the lights in Chapel Hill Friday at 7 p.m.