Another All-American men's soccer player has left Virginia's program to join Major League Soccer's Project-40. Forward Chris Albright signed with MLS, forgoing his final two years of eligibility.
Albright is the sixth Virginia underclassman to depart for the professional ranks in the last 19 months. Former Cav players who joined Project 40 are Jason Moore, Ben Olsen, Brian West, Mike Green and Scott Vermillion. Green, Olsen and Vermillion left following their junior seasons, while West and Moore left after their sophomore campaigns.
"We've lost six guys early over the past six years," Cavalier coach George Gelnovatch said in a press release. "I treat every case on an individual basis. It's something [the coaches] discuss with the player and his family. It's not an overall policy of mine to say, 'Yes, leave school and go into professional soccer.'
"In the case of all the guys who have left, they're all doing well, playing for their respective teams and making progress," he said. "They're all guaranteed their education if soccer doesn't work out and they're all getting better as soccer players."
MLS owns all player contracts and tries to equally distribute talent among the league's teams. Albright will be assigned to a team Friday. He is expected to begin playing immediately following the MLS All-Star break this weekend, unless he competes with the U.S. Pan-American team this month.
Possible destinations for Albright include the Chicago Fire and Los Angeles Galaxy. The New York MetroStars, who are in last place of the Eastern Division, also have been mentioned as a possible team for Albright. The MetroStars do not have a Project-40 member on their roster.
Regardless of Albright's eventual destination, he will be greatly missed by the Cavaliers' program next season. He led the Cavs last year with 20 goals. The goal output was the fourth-highest single-season total in school history.
Albright also led the team in points, with 43 on the season. That total tied him with three other ex-Cavs for the fifth-highest single-season points total.
"We're probably losing this season's college soccer player of the year. I don't have any problem in saying that," Gelnovatch said. "But we're trying to do what's best for the individual player. This only creates an opportunity for the next Chris Albright to step in."
The Cavs will need several people to step into starring roles to replace the recent departures from the program. With Albright's decision to leave, Virginia now returns only five of 11 starters from last season.
Among that quintet is Albright's frontline partner Sheldon Barnes. The sophomore played much of last season with injuries and should be healthy this year. Joining Barnes as a forward will most likely be Ryan Gibbs, an incoming player who is expected to perform for the Cavaliers.
"The saving grace is that we recruited a top forward in Ryan Gibbs," Gelnovatch said. "It would have really left us in a tough spot if we had not gotten a top forward. But Ryan will still be just a freshman. [Barnes] is a sophomore who played injured last year, so there are still some questions there"