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Men’s soccer visits Blacksburg, takes on struggling Virginia Tech

Key cogs Thomsen, Lennon return from injuries for rivalry game

<p>Senior midfielder Scott Thomsen has been active for just one game this season but will be in the lineup against the Hokies. </p>

Senior midfielder Scott Thomsen has been active for just one game this season but will be in the lineup against the Hokies. 

A rivalry game is still a rivalry game no matter what the series history says. When the Virginia Cavaliers take on the Virginia Tech Hokies Friday night, neither team will be worrying about who’s supposed to win. Virginia is the heavy favorite, but both teams understand anything can happen when it’s rivalry week.

One of Virginia Tech’s strongest assets is its physical but sloppy style of play. They’re a chippy, tough team known more for their physicality than their mechanics. They must capitalize on the chances this style of play creates to have any hope of pulling off the upset.

Virginia coach George Gelnovatch understands that managing the Hokies’ aggression and not slipping into sloppy play of their own will be key for the Cavaliers. But he’s also experienced enough of these rivalry games to know this is easier said than done.

“I don’t think it’s going to look exactly the way we want it to look in terms of passing it and controlling it,” Gelnovatch said. “It’s just never been when we go there, so you’ve got to be ready for that type of game.”

As the Cavaliers prepare for the predicted scrappiness of the upcoming game, they’ll at least know they’ve been better than the Hokies lately. Virginia Tech (5-6-3, 0-3-3 ACC) is coming off a blowout 5-0 loss at the hands of Charlotte. Meanwhile, the No. 21 Cavaliers (8-3-2, 3-2-1 ACC) earned an inspiring 3-1 home win last Friday versus Pittsburgh with three unanswered goals in the second half.

Gelnovatch understands the influence home-field advantage can have on a game. Going to Virginia Tech instead of being at home may call for a slightly different mentality.

“At our place I think we can control things a little bit better,” Gelnovatch said. “At their place it’s less in our control.”

Both teams desperately need the win, but for seemingly different reasons. Virginia looks to move up in the Coastal Division rankings, where they sit in third place just behind Notre Dame and North Carolina. The Hokies are 11th in the conference and must get a win if they want any hope of playing in the ACC tournament, which starts in two weeks.

The Cavaliers will welcome back senior midfielder Scott Thomsen and junior forward Riggs Lennon. Both players are returning from nagging injuries. If they play Friday, they should each have an impact on the game as they’ve been crucial elements of this team in the past.

The rivalry has certainly favored Virginia during the many years the two have played one another. Dating back to 1960, the Cavaliers have won 38 of the 45 meetings.

The Hokies have struggled to find their footing in ACC play this year, going a lousy 0-3-3. The Cavaliers, meanwhile, have been sub-par on the road (1-2-1) thus far. However, Virginia’s overall record (8-3-2) reigns superior to Virginia Tech’s (5-6-3) by a pretty wide margin.

The series record and the two teams’ 2015 overall records will certainly give Virginia some confidence. However, the Cavaliers know the Hokies always come ready to play, especially in a game of this sort. Any bit of complacence can come back to bite the favorites at any level of soccer. Virginia sophomore defender Sheldon Sullivan understands the nature of this game and his team’s need to be ready.

“The game’s going to be rough. Tech’s not the most technical team, but they work hard and they know the rivalry between us,” Sullivan said. “So we know it’s going to be a dogfight.”

The game starts at 7 p.m. Friday night at Thompson Field in Blacksburg, Va.