Men’s soccer begins NCAA play against Vermont

Cavaliers host second round of national tournament Sunday


Junior goalkeeper Jeff Caldwell, a second-team All-ACC selection, recorded nine shutouts for Virginia this season.

Callie Collins | Cavalier Daily

For the 36th consecutive season, the Virginia men’s soccer team is gearing up to play in the NCAA Tournament Sunday. After earning the No. 12 seed in the bracket, the Cavaliers enjoyed a first round bye, and will now host Vermont in the second round. Winning Sunday would advance the Cavaliers (10-3-5, 3-2-3 ACC) into the third round, which would outdo last year’s second-round exit from the tournament.

Not only does the 12-seed warrant Virginia a bye, but it also gives the Cavaliers a home field advantage against the Catamounts (14-6-1, 4-3-0 America East). Klöckner Stadium has yet to host a Cavalier loss this season, so getting to play another game in Charlottesville should be a huge advantage for Virginia.

The Cavaliers come into the match not having played since Nov. 6 — a 1-0 loss against Louisville in the ACC Tournament quarterfinals. Prior to the loss against the Cardinals (12-5-2, 5-2-1 ACC), the Cavaliers had been unbeaten since Sept. 24.

“You want to be playing more rounds of the ACC Tournament, but when you have this time you take advantage of it.” coach George Gelnovatch said. “And I think we’ve done a good job of that. Guys that haven’t been in our lineup a lot are getting some reps in our lineup, so you could see some guys getting some minutes that haven’t played a whole lot this year and it’s only because we’ve had time to try it.”

During the time away from competitive play, seven different Cavaliers earned All-ACC honors. Sophomore forward Edward Opoku and junior midfielder Pablo Aguilar, both of whom have tallied six goals and two assists, were named to the All-ACC Second Team by the league’s coaches.

Opoku received ACC laurels for the second consecutive season, earning Third-Team All-ACC and All-Freshman Team honors in 2015. Meanwhile, Aguilar has proved to be a difference maker for the Cavaliers, finding the back of the net in Virginia’s most recent wins — both 1-0 victories against Duke and North Carolina State.

Additionally, junior goalkeeper Jeff Caldwell was named to the All-ACC Second Team, an improvement from his 2015 third-team selection. Caldwell has recorded nine shutouts this season, letting in only one goal in Virginia’s last six matchups.

Sophomore midfielder Jean-Christophe Koffi and sophomore defender Sergi Nus were also recognized by the ACC, earning spots on the third-team. Midfielders Robin Afamefuna and Terrell Lowe rounded out the honors Virginia, with both earning a spot in the All-ACC Freshman Team.

The depth and skill of Virginia has contributed to a sense of confidence for the team, as it prepares for the national tournament.

“I really think this year is the year for us,” Caldwell said. “We have an excellent combination of older guys with leadership and young, talented guys.”

Gelnovatch also feels assured in his team’s ability to make a deep run in the national tournament this year.

“Any one of those top 16 seeds that get a bye are capable of winning a national championship as we proved in 2014.” Gelnovatch said. “So, you couldn’t ask for a better situation, you have a bye and then you have a home game, and then you keep getting better.”

However, the confidence has not lead the Cavaliers to take any of their future matchups lightly.

“Every opponent here on out is going to be tough,” Caldwell said. “We’re going to have to take everyone very seriously. Every game is a big game, it’s a must win game, by definition. With that said, I think we’re in an excellent position, I don’t know if we’ve ever felt this good, in my time here, coming into the tournament.”

The opponent for Sunday’s game, Vermont, comes into the match after defeating Rider, 4-1, in the first round of the tournament.

Vermont’s victory was a nice bounce-back win for the team, whose most recent game before the NCAA Tournament was a 2-0 loss to Albany in the semifinal round of the America East tournament.

The Catamounts are led on offense by senior forward Brian Wright, who scored three goals in Vermont’s win over Rider Thursday night. Over the course of the season, Wright has tallied 14 goals and 10 assists.

Still, despite Wright’s skill, it will be no easy task for the Catamounts to pick up a win in Charlottesville.

“If teams come here they’re undoubtedly going to be nervous,” Caldwell said. “No one has beaten us here this year. We’re very, very difficult to beat at home.”

Kickoff is scheduled for 1 p.m. Sunday. If Virginia wins, it will face either Stanford, the reigning national champion, or the winner of the Cal State-Northridge-Pacific matchup.

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