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No. 3 men’s soccer travels to Blacksburg to face Virginia Tech Wednesday

Virginia looks to continue its strong start to the season while Virginia Tech hopes to rebound from a season-opening loss

<p>Senior forward Nathaniel Crofts will have to continue his strong start to the season if the Cavaliers want to defeat the Hokies and remain perfect.&nbsp;</p>

Senior forward Nathaniel Crofts will have to continue his strong start to the season if the Cavaliers want to defeat the Hokies and remain perfect. 

No. 3 Virginia men’s soccer will head to Blacksburg Wednesday for a matchup against in-state rival Virginia Tech. The Cavaliers (1-0-0, 1-0-0 ACC) opened their season Friday night with a 2-1 win against Louisville and will aim to continue the momentum from the dramatic win in double overtime. Virginia also hopes to extend their all-time lead over the Hokies (0-1-0, 0-1-0 ACC), which currently stands at 41-4-5.

The Hokies lost their season opener to No. 2 Pittsburgh on Saturday night. After a tough matchup against a talented Pittsburgh team, the Hokies look to rebound and build on the positives from their first game of the season.

With both Virginia and Virginia Tech having played only one game in the season so far, both hope to achieve a statement win against their in-state rival early in the season.

Players to Watch

Virginia senior forward Nathaniel Crofts

Virginia’s leading returning scorer from 2019 stepped up big in the first game of the season, scoring a goal to put the Cavaliers ahead 1-0 in the 52nd minute. After losing the top two point scorers from last season, the Cavaliers will need Crofts to play a larger role in the attack, as he did against Louisville Friday night. In last season’s matchup versus the Hokies, Crofts scored the game-winning goal and assisted on Virginia’s second goal of the game. 

Additionally, Virginia Tech sophomore goalkeeper Matt Zambetti struggled in his first career start, allowing four goals on nine shots on goal. Crofts and the Cavalier offense have a prime opportunity to attack Zambetti and test his ability to make plays.

Virginia Tech sophomore midfielder Daniel Pereira

After a quiet start against Pittsburgh, watch for Pereira to make a big impact in the game against the Cavaliers. Pereira finished his freshman season with the second-most points on the team and was named to the 2019 ACC All-Freshman team. Pereira will look to improve upon his impressive freshman season and play a big part of Virginia Tech’s offense in the game versus the Cavaliers.

Pereira had six shots in the Hokies’ first game of the season so expect Pereira to attack the goal at every opportunity and make his presence known. Pereira and a deep Virginia Tech offense will present a tough challenge for a strong Virginia defense.

Key Matchup

Virginia graduate student goalkeeper Colin Shutler vs. Virginia Tech senior forward Kristo Strickler

Both Shutler and Strickler are coming off of strong performances in their respective season openers. Preseason All-American Shutler recorded a career-high eight saves in Virginia’s victory on Friday, including two crucial stops in overtime to keep the Cavaliers alive. Strickler, who led the Hokies in scoring last season, started the 2020 season hot, scoring two goals in Virginia Tech’s first game of the season. 

The matchup between Shutler and Strickler will be critical on Wednesday night. In last season's game between the Cavaliers and the Hokies, Shutler shut out the Hokies offense and made five saves to secure the win for the Cavaliers. Shutler’s 0.53 goals against average was the lowest in the country last season so expect Shutler to have a strong game as the last line of defense for the Cavaliers. Shutler’s length, athleticism and experience will be to his advantage when he faces the Hokies.

Virginia Tech’s Strickler has become the team’s go-to goal scorer and has come up big when it counts, scoring eight game-winning goals in the past two seasons. If Virginia Tech hopes to pull off the upset, Strickler will need to have a huge game to put the Hokies on the board and get the better of Shutler. Expect Strickler and the rest of Virginia Tech’s offense to test Shutler all night and force him to make saves. 

Keys to the Game

Control possession and keep the ball away from the Hokies’ offense

Virginia struggled to control possession  in their first game against Louisville due to a lack of sharpness and game fitness after a long wait to start the season. Consequently, Louisville was able to create many scoring opportunities and out shot Virginia 18-9. Virginia Tech had 14 shots in their first game and will likely continue to be aggressive on offense. Virginia will have to work to keep the ball away from the Hokies talented offense — otherwise Shutler will have a busy night in goal. Possession will also help the Cavaliers to set the pace of the game and execute their game plan, offensively and defensively.

Attack the Hokies’ defense and score early

The Hokies’ defense and goalkeeper had trouble containing the Pittsburgh offense in their season opener. Virginia will need to capitalize on Virginia Tech’s tendency to start slow defensively to jump out to an early lead and disrupt the Hokies bid for an upset. The opening goal in any game, and especially one versus a rival, is crucial. Virginia Tech’s defense has shown vulnerabilities early that the Cavaliers’ offense should take advantage of to pull ahead in the game.

Wednesday night, Virginia will aim to continue its undefeated season, while the Hokies will seek to gain an upset win in a tense rivalry matchup. Kick-off is set for 8 p.m. in Blacksburg, Va.

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