Men's soccer blanks Providence
Cavaliers finish three-game homestand undefeated
The Virginia men’s soccer team did not attempt many shots Tuesday night against Providence. But when the Cavaliers did shoot, they did so with efficiency.
Junior midfielder Eric Bird scored two goals on two shots in the first half, and Virginia (3-3-1, 0-2-1 ACC) notched a 4-0 shutout victory against the previously unbeaten Friars (5-1-2) for the 250th win of coach George Gelnovatch’s 18-year career.
“I didn’t even know,” Bird said. “It’s a big honor. You know, coach George is an amazing coach and congratulations to him. He earned it… [It’s] a special night for George, so it’s all for him.”
Virginia completed a three-game homestand dating back to last Tuesday’s 3-0 shutout of No. 23 George Mason. The Cavaliers compiled a pair of wins and a tie during their recent campaign at Klöckner Stadium, improving their record from an unfamiliar 1-3 in the process.
The team’s success in the past week revolved around an improved offensive attack. Virginia scored at least three goals in each game after opening the season with a combined three goals in its first three contests.
“We talked a lot about [scoring goals] in the preseason,” Bird said. “That was one of coach George’s biggest concerns, just, ‘Where am I going to get the goals from?’ You can’t replace a guy like [first-team All-ACC forward] Will Bates, and so… We said, ‘This is going to have to be a collective effort.’ And I think I saw… like 10 of us have scored for the team, and that’s what it’s going to take. It gives us a huge amount of confidence.”
Bird scored his first goal in the 13th minute, volleying sophomore defender Scott Thomsen’s corner kick into the lower-left corner of the net to put the Cavaliers up 1-0. Virginia earned the corner kick when sophomore midfielder Todd Wharton found sophomore forward Darius Madison in position to launch the first shot of the game. His attempt was deflected out of bounds by the Providence defense.
“To be honest with you, I think [Bird has] been one of the guys making this team go,” Gelnovatch said. “You know, he actually got hurt this spring, and this summer [he] was still not quite right. Even in preseason he wasn’t quite right. I feel like he’s just getting himself right … And if we can get him scoring goals on top of it — which he seems to be kind of doing now — we’re going to be in good shape.”
Bird struck again in the 42nd minute when he passed the ball to sophomore midfielder Marcus Salandy-Defour at the 18-yard line and got the ball back 20 yards from the goal. Bird completed the give-and-go with another shot to the lower-left corner of the net. The goal, his team-leading third of the year, put Virginia up 2-0 at the break.
“It’s been a little [of] a rocky start to my career here, but I got a good offseason under my belt this summer, and I was able to stick in town, and I think that’s helped me out a lot,” Bird said. “I feel like I’m getting back to normal, where I was before the injury.”
The Virginia defense frustrated the Providence attack throughout the game. The Friars managed only two shots in the first half and six in the game. Virginia sophomore goalkeeper Jeff Gal posted a shutout without having to make a single save. Tuesday night was a new experience for Providence, which entered the game having outshot its previous seven opponents by a 113-60 margin.
“The piece that was just missing in these games that we’re losing is the individual defending in the last third of the field, which was there tonight,” Gelnovatch said. “So, if we keep that mentality, we’ll be in good shape.”
The second half was marked by pleasant firsts for Virginia. Freshman midfielder Patrick Foss and freshman forward Riggs Lennon each scored the first goal of their Virginia careers, and junior midfielder Matt Mills played his first minutes of the season.
Foss’ goal came in the 69th minute, when Bird was fouled by the Providence defense 25 yards from the net on the right half of the field. Foss curved the ball into the lower-right corner of the goal on the resulting free kick.
Lennon subbed into the game at about the same time, and he made the most of his minutes when he took a pass from Wharton in the Providence penalty box and shot past Friars’ redshirt junior goalkeeper Keasel Broome. Lennon’s goal put the Cavaliers up 4-0 with nine minutes to play. Mills made his appearance shortly thereafter.
Virginia travels to Syracuse for a 7 p.m. game Saturday. The Cavaliers will look to earn their first ACC victory of the year.
“Syracuse, that’s a big game for us,” Bird said. “I mean, obviously we want to get our first win in the ACC, and they’re a newcomer and they’ve got something to prove… I’m sure coach will… give us a good game-plan for Saturday.”