Previewing 2019 Virginia men’s soccer

The Cavaliers set their sights on an elusive eighth national championship

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After a disappointed 2018 season, Virginia looks to bounce back in 2019. 

Courtesy Virginia Athletics

After the 2018 season ended with a heartbreaking loss to ACC rival Notre Dame in the third round of the NCAA championship, No. 12 Virginia looks to not only extend the nation’s longest NCAA tournament appearance streak — 38 years — but add an elusive eighth national championship to the storied program’s trophy case.

Given that the ACC boasts seven teams in the United Soccer Coaches’ preseason top-25, and four in the top 10, nothing will be guaranteed for the Cavaliers. In fact, seven of Virginia’s 16 matches will be against teams ranked in the preseason top 25, including a rematch against the 2018 national champions and preseason No. 1 Maryland Terrapins at Audi Field in Washington, D.C. 

Key Matchups

No. 1 Maryland (Sept. 2)

When Virginia and Maryland last played, the Terrapins were an unranked and overachieving underdog facing the then-No. 7 Cavaliers. The rematch early in 2019 will be a much different story as Virginia has a lot to prove against the defending national champions. 

Although Maryland has lost its starting goalkeeper Dayne St. Clair and five other key members of last year’s team to graduation in addition to breakout senior forward Paul Bin to a torn ACL, the Terrapins’ roster still features a lot of talent. Sophomore midfielder William James Herve had 9 points in 20 appearances in 2018, while senior center-back Johannes Bergmann and junior right-back Ben Di Rosa return to anchor a Maryland defense that allowed just 0.7 goals per game. 

Virginia and Maryland’s 82nd meeting will prove to be an exciting one as the Cavaliers try to upset the Terrapins who have only lost one of the last nine matches between the two teams. 

No. 10 Duke (Sept. 13)

Last year, the then-No. 23 Blue Devils came into Klöckner, after losing their three previous ACC contests, and proceeded to shock the Cavaliers who had been unbeaten over their last eight matches. This year, the Cavaliers will travel to face No. 10 Duke, hoping to secure a win in Durham for the first time since the 2011 season. 

When the two teams face off in September, the Cavaliers will see a familiar face on the pitch. Graduate transfer defender Sergi Nus tore his ACL late in the 2017 season, sat out the 2018 season and transferred to Duke after graduating from Virginia. Nus — a two-time All-ACC player — is set to play an important role in the Blue Devils’ defense, which posted eight clean sheets in the 2018 season. 

No. 16 Virginia Tech (Oct. 25)

Since the two rivals began playing each other, Virginia has won 31 out of 38 matches against Virginia Tech, only losing two matches in 2004 and 2005. Last year, the Cavaliers and the Hokies drew 0-0 after a hard-fought double overtime thriller. 

Virginia Tech returns 10 of their 11 starters from last season and will be an even better team given the expected maturation of the six underclassmen starters in their 2018 campaign. As the rivalry game will be the Cavaliers’ penultimate regular season match, a victory against the Hokies could give Virginia momentum going into the ACC Tournament. 

Players to Watch

Junior midfielder Joe Bell

In 2018, Bell was one of the two Cavaliers to play all 17 matches for Virginia, tallying one goal and five assists while also serving as co-captain with senior defender Robin Afamefuna. Although the statistics may not always show it, the New Zealand native is a crucial playmaker for the Cavaliers. His ability to pick apart defenses with well-timed passes and score the occasional game-winning-goal — as he did against No. 19 New Hampshire last season — will be essential for Virginia. 

Bell’s talent and skill were even recognized on the professional level as Norwegian club Viking FK aggressively pursued him over the summer, especially after Bell captained New Zealand to a Round of 16 finish at the 2019 FIFA U-20 World Cup. Nevertheless, to the delight of Virginia fans, Bell decided to return to Charlottesville and captain the team for the second year in a row.

Redshirt junior goalkeeper Colin Shutler

For the first 15 games of the 2018 season, Virginia graduate goalkeeper Colin Shutler was an impenetrable wall, posting eight clean sheets along with an ACC-leading 79.6 save percentage. However, Shutler was unable to play the final two matches due to injury, missing the entire NCAA tournament. This year, the 6-foot-1, 185-pound Shutler returns to action to play an important role in leading a new Virginia back line, which lost several key players including freshman phenom Aboubacar Keita who decided to sign with MLS club Columbus Crew SC after his lone season at Virginia. 

During the 2018 season, Shutler had two marquee performances, posting seven saves against Maryland and eight saves against Virginia Tech over 220 minutes of play. If Shutler can continue his fine form and avoid injury, he will once again serve as a valuable piece for a Virginia team that has its eyes set on a conference and national title. 

Virginia kicks off the 2019 season against Pacific University Friday night at Klöckner Stadium. The match will be broadcasted on ACC Network Extra. 

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