Men's Soccer Season Preview
July 23, 1998
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. – When he took over as the head coach at the University of Virginia in January of 1996, George Gelnovatch knew he had a tough task ahead of him. He had to replace UVa’s all-time winningest coach in Bruce Arena, who has since gone on to win a pair of titles in Major League Soccer with D.C. United. Gelnovatch was also expected to keep the Cavaliers among the elite teams in the nation, as Virginia had won five national championships in the seven years before he became head coach.
Now entering his third season at the helm of the UVa program, there is little doubt Gelnovatch has accomplished those difficult tasks. His 1996 squad spent the majority of the season ranked No. 1 in the nation, before struggling late in the season and falling in both the ACC championship game and the NCAA first round. After that disappointing ending to his first year, Gelnovatch’s 1997 squad came back to win the ACC title and make it all the way to the NCAA championship game before suffering a heartbreaking loss to UCLA. With those two outstanding seasons under his belt, Gelnovatch enters 1998 needing 15 victories to become the first coach in ACC history to pick up 50 wins before the end of his third season.
But, even though the success of the Cavaliers has not changed under Gelnovatch, the team has taken on a bit of a different look. The 1998 squad features only three players who attended Virginia before Gelnovatch was the head coach, with a total of only seven juniors and seniors on the team.
“In my first year, there was some awkwardness and transition, just because it had been so long since there had been a coaching change,” says Gelnovatch. “Last season there was a huge difference, and I think it paid off in a positive way. The older guys on the team had played under me for a season, and had time to become comfortable with me as their head coach. As for the younger guys, they responded very well since I was the one who recruited them. All told, it is now very easy for the coaches to get across the way we want to do things. I am hoping this will have more of a positive effect on our team this year.”
Even so, Gelnovatch realizes there may be some bumps along the way as he takes his youthful squad into the 1998 season.
“We had a young team last season, and we are even younger this year,” says Gelnovatch. “Early in the season, we may struggle some in terms of playing together as a unit and finding our chemistry. We need to determine what type of lineup to use and where to put people so we can have success. But in the end, we will have the talent and the character to be pretty good. In particular, I expect the members of our sophomore class to step up. We have six national team players from that class as part of our core group, and I think that leaves us in good shape.”
With a number of talented players returning, the Cavaliers still need to replace four starters. Here is a look at which players are back and who will be asked to step up Virginia in 1998.
The Cavaliers will need to make their biggest changes up front, as three of last year’s top scorers are gone in Ben Olsen, Matt Leonard and Brian West. To fill this void, Virginia may move two of its starting midfielders to forward, in sophomores Chris Albright and Ryan Trout. Albright ranked third on the team in scoring last year with 29 points on 11 goals and seven assists. With that outstanding rookie season, he became the first UVa freshman to score double figure goals since 1991. A tremendous athlete with excellent size and speed, Albright will be counted on to once again be among the team’s top scorers. Trout, a excellent dribbler who can beat defenders with his craftiness and speed, is also coming off a strong first year. He totaled 17 points in 1997, scoring three goals while ranking third on the squad in assists with 11. Joining Albright and Trout in the competition for playing time up front is freshman Sheldon Barnes. An extremely strong and fast athlete, Barnes should quickly adapt to the physical style of play in the ACC. He is also very skillful on the ball and has the ability to score in one-on-one situations.
“Chris Albright, Ryan Trout and Sheldon Barnes will all be key players for us,” says Gelnovatch. “We may even play with three forwards this year, in which case they would all be starting up front. But regardless of who is playing where, we will count on Albright to score goals for us this season. He scored 11 goals last year, and we hope he can at least match that in terms of goal production. We will also look to get a little more out of Trout by putting him in spots where he will have less defensive responsibilities and can attack the goal more. Then we have Barnes, who we expect to come in and play right away. He might have a decent amount of responsibility placed on his shoulders, but I think he is mature enough and talented enough to handle that and score some goals for us.”
Other candidates up top are sophomore Billy Petersen and freshman Chris Scott. All told the Cavaliers forwards are very young, but they definitely have the talent to take over the scoring load.
Virginia loses only one of last year’s starting midfielders, but with the possible moves of Albright and Trout to forward, there could be holes to fill. Sophomore Jason Moore looks to take over as the Cavaliers attacking midfielder, after playing a deep central role last season. The 1997 ACC Rookie of the Year, Moore showed great versatility while ranking fifth on the team in assists with nine. An athletic talent who is very strong on the ball, Moore looks to become more of a goal scorer this season and take his place as one of the top players in the country. Another returning starter is defensive midfielder Sam Franklin. A fifth-year senior who is the only current Cavalier to own a national championship ring, Franklin is an excellent tackler and distributor who is also very effective in the air. As the oldest player on the squad, Franklin also looks to take over more of a leadership role both on and off the field. Two other candidates for starting roles as central midfielders are freshman Steve Totten and sophomore Mike McQuatters. A tenacious worker and who is smart on the ball and good with his feet, Totten was a three-time high school All-American and a member of the the U.S. under-17 national team. McQuatters, an excellent passer who is good at reading the game, saw limited action in his first season and will look to make more of an impact this year.
On the flanks, Virginia appears to have an unlimited number of options. Depending on what type of lineup the Cavaliers use, Albright, Trout or both could be starting as flank midfielders. In addition, Totten could play on the flanks as well as in the center of the midfield. Another top candidate to earn a starting job out wide is freshman Marshall Leonard. A high school All-American who has played for the U.S. under-20 and under-17 national teams, Leonard is a smart player who is very good on the ball. The left-footed Leonard, who will likely play on the left flank, also has experience as a defender.
Two other players who can expect to see a good deal of action in the midfield are junior Drew O’Donnell and sophomore Mike Feller. O’Donnell scored seven points on two goals and three assists last season, mostly off the bench, and has the ability to play on either the right or left flank. Feller, who came to UVa as a defender, saw limited action last season due to injury. An excellent passer and ball handler, Feller looks to move to a flank midfield spot this season.
“Jason Moore and Sam Franklin both have experience as central midfielders for us, and they will once again be key parts of our team,” says Gelnovatch. “Marshall Leonard, Mike Feller and Drew O’Donnell will be in competition for the two starting spots on the flanks, while Steve Totten could play as a central midfielder or out wide. Then if you add in Albright and Trout if they are not pushed up front, we will once again have a very deep group to chose from in the midfield.”
Others who will look to contribute in the midfield are junior Neil Bianco, sophomore Kito Pruitt and sophomore Curtis Bush.
The defense looks to once again be a strength for the Cavaliers, under the leadership of senior sweeper Matt Chulis. An All-America selection after both his sophomore and junior seasons, Chulis is among the best in the nation at reading the game and making quick adjustments. The U.S. under-23 national team player looks to have another outstanding year in his final season of collegiate play.
The players most likely to join Chulis in the starting backfield are junior Michael Green and sophomore Chad Prince. A hard tackler who is good in the air, Green started every game last season and his 2,337 minutes played were the most on the squad. Prince, who played in only 11 games as a freshman, is an excellent marking back who can also distribute the ball well.
Pushing Green and Prince for playing time will be freshman Matt Beran, a talented young player who should develop into a top defender. Other defensive options for the Cavaliers include Feller and Leonard, who can both move back from the midfield.
“Matt Chulis is going to be the backbone of our team. He has been through it all and can really help bring along the younger players by relaying his knowledge,” says Gelnovatch. “Both Michael Green and Chad Prince have shown us they have the ability to stay in the starting lineup, but I expect Matt Beran to come in and push them for those spots.”
The position where the Cavaliers may have stockpiled the most talent is goalkeeper. The returning starter is senior Brock Yetso, who enjoyed an outstanding season last fall. Yetso had an 0.87 goals against average with 79 saves and six solo shutouts in 1997 while playing 2,269 minutes, the most ever by a UVa goalkeeper. After putting up those numbers, the aggressive and athletic veteran would appear to be hard to keep out of the lineup.
But senior Mike Forensich will provide Yetso with a stiff challenge in his attempt to keep the starting job. Forensich was a two-year starter at Cal State Fullerton in 1995 and 1996, before transferring to Virginia and serving as Yetso’s backup last season. Having fully adapted to the UVa program and coming off a solid spring, Forensich looks to be almost even with Yetso in the battle to win the starting job.
“Brock Yetso was very steady for us last year and I think he has a slight edge entering the fall,” says Gelnovatch. “But by no means is anything locked up. Both he and Mike Forensich want to play, and I think there is a healthy competition going on between them. If either one of them comes into fall practice and really stands out, he will be our starter. But I would not be surprised if they split time early in the season until one of them clearly emerges as our No. 1 goalkeeper.” With Yetso and Forensich battling for the starting job, another talented goalkeeper looks to spend the entire season on the bench. Freshman Kyle Singer is a high school All-American who has played for the U.S. under-17 national team and has the potential to be among the best goalkeepers in school history. But, with two seniors ahead of him on the preseason depth chart, Singer is expected to redshirt this year and enter 1999 as the probable starting goalkeeper for the Cavaliers. Providing depth in the nets along with Singer will be sophomore Nelson Cupello and sophomore Mark Martinson.