CANTWELL: Be patient with men’s soccer’s young attackers

Low scoring should not be a cause for alarm for the Cavaliers

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Freshman forward Cabrel Happi Kamseu is Virginia's leading scorer so far this season, with four goals in his last five matches.

Andrew Walsh | Cavalier Daily

The Virginia men’s soccer team has had a spectacular start to the season, remaining undefeated through their first seven matches while conceding only two goals. At times, however, the Cavaliers have been carried by their rock-solid defense and the goalkeeping heroics of sophomore goalkeeper Colin Shutler, who boasts the lowest goals-against average in the nation.

Though the Cavalier attack has struggled early in the season, this can mostly be chalked up to a reliance on young and inexperienced players to fill the goal-scoring void left by Edward Opoku — Virginia’s leading scorer last season who is now with Major League Soccer’s Columbus Crew.

The Virginia defense may be much of the reason why the team remains undefeated  — but the defense is also more experienced, with freshman defender Aboubacar Keita being the only freshman getting significant minutes at that position. 

In the last few matches, Virginia has finally begun to show signs of being more lethal in front of goal, with three straight 2-0 wins and a 2-1 win after failing to score more than one goal in any of their first four games. 

Virginia head coach George Gelnovatch made the somewhat surprising decision to start freshman Cabrel Happi Kamseu at striker in the season opener against New Hampshire, and he initially struggled. Happi Kamseu failed to find the back of the net in his first three appearances and never played the full 90 minutes.

However, Happi Kamseu is the poster boy for why Virginia fans should be patient with their young attackers. He has now scored four goals in his last five matches, leading the team in scoring. He has also played the entire match his last four times out, becoming a key player for the Cavaliers up front.

Senior Kennedy Nwabia was the player expected to begin the season as the starting striker, mainly due to his experience. However, Nwabia is only in his second year with Virginia, having transferred from Dayton. He, like Happi Kamseu, started the season goalless before finally breaking through with a goal against Syracuse on Sept. 21. 

Freshmen strikers Daniel Steedman and Daryl Dike have also received significant minutes on Virginia’s forward line this season. Dike scored his first goal of the season against the Cavaliers’ most recent opponent, Wright State, and Steedman hasn’t scored a goal yet. Like their fellow Virginia attackers, they could use some patience as they develop into collegiate-level attackers.

Gelnovatch has done well to rotate his forwards, giving them each time to build up some confidence even when they are inconsistent on the field. All four have started at least one match and have appeared in at least three.

Sophomore winger Nathaniel Crofts has also become a goalscoring threat this season, as well. Though Crofts was a regular starter last season, he often played in a wider role on the right side and failed to score a single goal the entire year. This year, Crofts has spent more time in the box, and it has paid dividends. Crofts has scored two goals, both coming from crosses by sophomore wingback Irakoze Donasiyano.

As the collegiate soccer season enters the home stretch, the Virginia attack will continue to develop and not be as anemic as it was early on in the year. If the defense keeps putting up the same historic numbers, the Cavaliers will truly be a team to be reckoned with in the postseason.

Colin Cantwell covers men’s soccer for The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at cpc3ba@virginia.edu.

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