Men's soccer gears up for potential banner year

The Virginia men’s soccer team has made four trips to the College Cup — including a national championship in 2009 — during coach George Gelnovatch’s 18 seasons at the helm of the program. But to say last season’s trip to Chester, Pennsylvania to face Maryland in the national semifinals was expected is far from the case.

The Cavaliers fielded a young 2013 squad — their starting lineup included just one senior. Gelnovatch believed 2014 would then be the season Virginia once again rose to national prominence.

Through the first two weeks of the 2013 season, it seemed Gelnovatch was correct, with the Cavaliers losing three of their first four matches. But if there was a theme to 2013, it was resilience.

After defeating George Mason 3-0, the Cavaliers rallied from two down in a 3-3 double overtime victory against NC State. From there, Virginia never looked back.

Those two wins were the first of an 11-game unbeaten streak which gave the Cavaliers the spark they needed for postseason play. Virginia defeated then-No. 1 Notre Dame in the ACC Tournament semifinals before falling to Maryland in the championship.

Then, after earning the No. 8 seed in the NCAA tournament, Virginia reeled off three more wins before again falling to the Terrapins — this time in the College Cup — to finish the season 13-6-5 (8-3-4 ACC).

As the Cavaliers prepare for 2014, a second consecutive trip to the College Cup remains the goal, and seems to be within reach. Virginia returns all but three starters from 2013, losing defender Kevin McBride to graduation, midfielder Jordan Allen to Real Salt Lake and junior forward Marcus Salandy-Defour to a torn ACL.

Key among those returning starters is senior midfielder Eric Bird — who was Second-Team All-ACC in 2013 and is on the Hermann Trophy watch list for the top player in collegiate soccer. Junior midfielder Darius Madison also earned Second-Team All-ACC honors in 2013.

Senior goalkeeper Calle Brown is the favorite to orchestrate the Cavalier defense, while an offense that returns 86.6 percent of its scoring will look to torch its opponents.

Virginia, ranked No. 3 in the NSCAA Coaches preseason poll, appears poised to contend for the 2014 ACC and national championships.

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