After a tough 2021-22 season when Virginia went 6-9-3 overall and just 2-5-1 in the ACC, the Cavaliers are looking to rebound with some strong new additions to their team.
An important aspect of the Virginia men’s soccer team is how young of a team this was last season. Out of the 17 players who played in 10 or more games last year, 12 are returning.
With many of the key players returning and having gained valuable experience together last year, the Cavaliers are prepared for success this year in a fiercely competitive ACC. Six ACC teams were ranked in the top 25 of the United Soccer Coaches Division I preseason poll.
The team lost notable players like Daniel Wright, Ank Nibogora, Oliver Gerbig, Kaya Ignacio and Jules Anderson. Wright and Gerbig graduated, while Nibogora, Ignacio and Anderson all transferred.
Most notably for Virginia is their 2022-23 recruiting class which features 16 players. The class is ranked in the top five on TopDrawerSoccer.com, and it has a large mix of transfers, international players and young club players coming to college.
Coach George Gelnovatch announced the final class in May.
“We’ve blended some transfers with a proven track record of success at the college level, with high-level international and American-based players from various professional academies and clubs,” Gelnovatch said. “Adding this highly rated group to the talented pool of current players we have, will most certainly enhance the quality and depth of our team to compete for championships immediately.”
A few key additions to the class are redshirt sophomore transfer midfielder Axel Ahlander, senior transfer defender Moritz Kappelsberger and freshman defender Owen Walz.
Ahlander, a transfer from James Madison, has already achieved a lot in his one year of play. He earned CAA Rookie of the Year in spring 2021, CAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player of the Year in fall 2021 and Preseason CAA Co-Midfielder of the Year in fall 2021. Ahlander had seven points on two goals and three assists in 2021 and will inject energy into the midfield of the Cavaliers.
Kappelsberger is a transfer from Wisconsin who has a lot of experience on defense. He played at Duquesne for two years, where he started every game and played every minute of every game. At Wisconsin, he was an All-Big 10 Second Team selection, starting all 16 matches and recording four points on one goal and two assists. Kappelsberger will add more leadership and veteran knowledge to the Cavalier defense.
Walz, a freshman defender from Arlington, is a four-star recruit by TopDrawerSoccer.com. He trained with the DC United First Team in the MLS in 2021. It is yet to be seen how much playing time Walz may get given his age and inexperience on the collegiate level, but it will be interesting to watch how he progresses this season.
Junior forward Leo Afonso, sophomore forward Kome Ubogu, senior defender Andreas Ueland and junior goalkeeper Holden Brown headline the returning players who will play key roles in the success of the Cavaliers.
Afonso and Ubogu were first and second in both goals and points last season for Virginia, respectively. Afonso, a junior from San Paulo, Brazil, was the offensive leader for the Cavaliers last year and will look to continue that success this fall.
Afonso ranked third in the ACC in shots per game with 3.27, fourth in shots on goal per game with 1.47 and fifth in goals per game with 0.53.
Ubogu, a sophomore from Hoover, Alabama, was a spark as a freshman last year. He scored two game-winning goals against VCU and Mary Washington. Despite only starting five games last year, he still was second on the team with 10 points on four goals and two assists. The combination of Ubogu and Afonso up top will be exciting to watch this fall.
In terms of defense, Ueland and Brown are poised to again lead the Cavaliers.
Ueland, a senior defender from Bryne, Norway, has been the rock of the Virginia defense in his years on the team. In 2021-22, Ueland started all 17 games for the Cavaliers and played every minute. Additionally, he tied for fourth on the team in points with five, coming from two goals and an assist. On August 16th, Ueland was named to the 2022 ACC preseason watch list.
Meanwhile, Brown, a junior goalkeeper from Zionsville, Indiana, will try and improve on a career season last year. Brown led the ACC in saves with 86 and in saves per game with 4.78 and was second in save percentage with .761. His 86 saves were fourth in the NCAA. Brown also had three shutouts in 2021-22 against High Point, UNC Greensboro and Mary Washington.
Virginia has played two preseason games, falling 2-3 to Charlotte and defeating Bowling Green 5-1. The Cavaliers open regular season play Thursday at home against Xavier. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. and the game will be streamed on ACC Network Extra.