Despite featuring a roster with four starting first years and only one fourth year, the Virginia men's soccer team played like well-seasoned veterans in their impressive runs in the ACC and NCAA tournaments. But Saturday when they battled a UCLA squad led by seven seniors and three Player of the Year candidates, the Cavaliers looked inexperienced and outmatched.
The No. 3 Bruins, thanks to an early goal from Hermann trophy finalist Sasha Victorine, defeated Virginia 2-0 in the tournament quarterfinal before 3,510 at Klöckner Stadium.
The win sends UCLA (19-2-0) to the College Cup in Charlotte to face defending champion Indiana while the Cavaliers' loss ends a rocky but ultimately successful 1999 season.
UCLA is "the most talented team left in the field of eight," Cav Coach George Gelnovatch said. "They're not only talented, but they're seasoned. I would imagine they're going to do well going into Charlotte."
The Bruins set the tone of the match with two pivotal plays in the first nine minutes. In the fifth minute, Victorine, UCLA's co-captain and star midfielder, flicked a pass from forward Shea Travis past Virginia keeper David Comfort following a Cavalier turnover on their side of the pitch.
Down a goal, Virginia (14-8-1) stormed back to threaten the early UCLA lead.
In the ninth minute, Cav first-year forward Ryan Gibbs rushed past the Bruin defense to meet a ball sent by midfielder Steve Totten. Bruin keeper Nick Rimondo left his net to challenge Gibbs one-on-one but stumbled on his way out, leaving the net unguarded. Rimondo eventually tripped Gibbs to prevent a shot on the open goal and was called for a penalty inside the box.
Gelnovatch elected for Totten to take the penalty kick. The Cavalier tri-captain sent the ball on the ground to the left side, but Rimondo dived to cover it.
"I basically tried to relax as much as I could," Rimondo said. "I picked a side and he shot it to that side."
The rest of the first half was a back-and-forth chess match with both teams mounting offensive charges. Virginia's five shots in the half included a missed opportunity on a free kick centered just outside the box. After defender Marshall Leonard forced a yellow card on Bruin defender Ryan Lee, Cav midfielder Ryan Trout shot the ball through the UCLA wall, only to have Rimondo make yet another save.
"The goal right away was a shock," midfielder Kyle Martino said. "We thought we could come right back. You have to give a lot of credit to that keeper for making the save."
The second half proved to be all UCLA, however. The Bruins suffocated the Virginia offense while mounting quick surges on the Cavaliers' end. UCLA amassed 10 second-half shots to Virginia's one and scored in the 79th minute on a Lee goal assisted by Shaun Tsakins.
"We play with three players up front and immediately that puts pressure on their defense," Bruin Coach Todd Saldana said. "We did that, but then we got the goal, and we sat back for the rest of the game."
While Saldana will be headed to the College Cup in his first year as head coach, Virginia failed to make soccer's Final Four for the second straight season. The Cavs said they are optimistic about next year's chances with most of their young roster returning. However Drew O'Donnell, the lone fourth year, ended his college soccer career Saturday with 21 points over four seasons.
He said this 1999 squad was in some ways more successful than more talented ones in the past.
"This team has been the closest team we've had here," he said. "Everybody is always together, on and off the field. That was very special. As George says, we were a young team, but nobody ever doubted that we were a good team."
Though they finished the year with eight losses and fell short of the ultimate prize, the Cavs expected less and ended up with more.
Gelnovatch said the team's late success spoke volumes about the resiliency of his players and the tradition of Virginia soccer.
"Anybody who knows anything about college soccer knows what we've been through," he said. "We've lost six guys in three years. ... Those people who know something about soccer saw that we had some talented young players. We went through some growing pains but we've gotten better and made some improvements. I don't think there's a program in the country that could have survived what we survived"