Men's soccer bests VCU in double OT, 2-1
Bird leads team with golden goal, four goals on season
At this point, the powers that be should just budget 110 minutes for future men’s soccer games between Virginia and Virginia Commonwealth. They might as well mark it a Cavalier victory, as well.
After a corner kick in the waning minutes of the second overtime period, Virginia junior midfielder and captain Eric Bird emerged from a frantic scrum in the VCU penalty box to slot home the golden goal and secure a 2-1 victory.
It marked the third-straight double overtime win for Virginia (5-3-1) against VCU (3-4-1), dating back to 2009. More importantly for the 2013 Cavaliers, the victory provided a critical midseason triumph against a vaunted intrastate nemesis ranked as highly as No. 8 in earlier national polls.
“This is a big game,” Bird said. “We had this game circled on our schedule, obviously, because of the in-state rivalry … we knew that they were going to be nipping at our heels.”
More than anything else, coach George Gelnovatch relished his team’s mental and physical resilience amid a harrowing portion of its schedule. Tuesday night’s clash with the Rams marked Virginia’s sixth game in 18 days, and with two grueling conference games slated in the next week, Gelnovatch believed the overtime win highlighted an intangible perseverance the Cavaliers will need to channel again very soon. VCU, meanwhile, benefited from a full seven days of preparation.
“To be fatigued like we are and them having a week off — and they’re a good team — and to come away with this win in the condition that we’re in just shows a lot of mental toughness for us,” Gelnovatch said.
Watching the Cavaliers gouge the Rams’ defense in the early goings cast skepticism on Gelnovatch’s claims of weariness. Sophomore forward Darius Madison and freshman midfielder Jordan Allen addled VCU defenders on the wings while Bird moved the needle at midfield, helping the Cavaliers force six corner kicks in the first period.
Only when VCU started reciprocating the offensive pressure, however, did Virginia finally strike. In the 19th minute, after a hairy sequence in front of sophomore goaltender Jeff Gal’s pipes, Bird delivered an outlet pass to Madison — who torched VCU on the right wing before turning inside and firing a low ball into the left corner from 18 yards out to give Virginia a 1-0 advantage.
Control of the proceedings vacillated between Virginia and VCU for the remainder of the half, with the Cavaliers producing the most dangerous and frequent scoring chances. Virginia outshot VCU 7-3 in the first half, with Madison tallying four shots by himself.
“In the first 20 minutes, we had some chances,” Gelnovatch said. “So I feel like that was when we were a little fresher; that was our best chance to get a second goal.”
But by the middle part of the game, Gelnovatch said fatigue was already starting to wreak havoc in his roster and that fielding a fresh 11 proved daunting.
“I made more subs in the first half than I’ve probably made in the last 10 years,” Gelnovatch said.
The teams traded blows for the opening minutes of the second half before the Rams’ sophomore forward Kharlton Belmar equalized the game in style. Courtesy of a cheeky pass from sophomore defender Isaac Owusu, Belmar blasted an absolute firecracker over the outstretched arms of Gal from a near impossible angle on the right side.
Hosts of near misses and physical play governed what turned into a chippy affair toward the end of regulation. All in all, Virginia and VCU combined for 30 fouls.
“It’s kind of an in-state rivalry and it always has that element,” Gelnovatch said. “I didn’t think it was overboard.”
After dominating the first 15 minutes of overtime, Virginia finally sealed the win in appropriate fashion for what was a frenetic, if occasionally sloppy, contest. As a glut of players jostled for Virginia freshman defenseman Riggs Lennon’s corner, junior defender Matt Brown managed the decisive touch on to Bird. Bird obliged with his team-leading fourth goal of the year, one ahead of Madison’s three.
“It kind of squirted around,” Bird said. “[Brown] got that toe-poke to me and put it on a platter, and I just side-footed it home in the back corner.”
Far from flawless, the lead-legged Cavaliers’ steely performance against a talented, well-rested adversary nevertheless encouraged Bird that the still precocious Virginia roster can handle the rigors of ACC and postseason play.
“Just getting experience and exposure like this in a close game … it’s obviously some experience that a bunch of these young guys need,” Bird said.
Virginia hosts conference opponent Pittsburgh this Friday at 7 p.m.