2002 Virginia Men's Soccer Outlook
July 15, 2002
2002 VIRGINIA MEN’S SOCCER OUTLOOK
A new season, the same goal – win a national championship. That is the protocol once again for the 2002 Virginia Cavaliers. UVa, coming off the heels of a 2001 campaign where it finished 17-2-1 overall, 6-0-0 in the ACC, is looking to make a similar regular season run this year as it did last season. In 2001, the Cavaliers went undefeated in the regular season (16-0-1) and were unbeaten in the conference to become the first team ever to go undefeated in the ACC by winning all of its games by shutout. Only this year, Virginia wants to avoid any detours in the post-season standing in its way of winning a sixth national championship.
UVa head coach George Gelnovatch (99-28-12, sixth season) looks to direct yet another loaded team in 2002. As was the case with the six previous teams he coached, Gelnovatch once again has an abundance of talent to work with. But he also knows that no matter how much talent Virginia possesses, it only takes one obstacle to end a national championship run.
Despite commanding a team with such depth and potential, Gelnovatch also recognizes that skill and hard work play a vital role in avoiding potential pitfalls on the way to a national championship. Perfection is nearly impossible to master in any sport, but the 2002 Cavaliers are ready and willing to accept all challenges in their quest for a sixth national championship title.
UVa is oozing with talent, speed, quickness, skill and experience. The Cavaliers have been battle tested and are posed to let nothing stop them or stand in their way of a championship season. With a solid core of key veterans returning and a top-notch recruiting class ready to go, Virginia is determined to fight for a national championship title. Now, it is only a matter of time to see if determination equals reality for UVa in 2002.
The Cavaliers arguably feature one of the best forward duos in the nation with the one-two punch of Alecko Eskandarian and Ryan Gibbs. This lethal pair have the ability to score at any given moment and can turn a game around with one swift kick. Eskandarian and Gibbs combined to score 44 points and 18 goals last season, including 10 game-winning goals. The duo finished tied for first on the team with nine goals each and were first (Gibbs) and second (Eskandarian) on the team in scoring.
Eskandarian is a crafty player who always seems to be in the right place at the right time. As dangerous of a player he is with the ball, he is just as much of a threat without because he is constantly moving and always surveying the field. Eskandarian, an NSCAA/Adidas Second Team All-American and an All-ACC First Team selection last season, finished with 21 points resulting from nine goals (including five game-winners) and three assists. He will once again be one of Virginia’s focal points on the offensive end.
Gibbs is an electrifying forward with blazing speed and agility. Time and time again he has outrun and outmaneuvered the opposition to create offense for the Cavaliers. Gibbs also possesses great footwork and ball handling skills to compliment his speed. A 2001 All-ACC First Team performer, he will look to build upon his team-high 23 points from nine goals (including five game-winners) and five assists during last season.
Returning to the mix up front is second-year forward Chris Megaloudis. No player on UVa’s roster made more of his playing time than Megaloudis did. He scored five points in only 102 minutes of action, including two goals while taking only four shots. With a year of experience under his belt, look for Megaloudis to provide the Cavaliers with solid minutes of service again this season.
After missing all of last year with an injury, Rob Wright looks to bounce back into the playing rotation this season. Wright turned in one of his best season’s as a first-year, and he looks to duplicate that performance once again this year.
Recruiting is important to any collegiate program, and Virginia has two first-year gems in Paul Johnson and Phillip Long to factor into the forward rotation. Johnson, one of the most highly touted athletes to ever sign with UVa, brings his attacking style of play to the pitch while Long, a somewhat underrated player, could really come into his own in the Virginia system. Look for both newcomers to provide depth and a solid boost to the Cavaliers’ front line.
In what may have been UVa’s deepest position a year ago, the Cavaliers have several holes to fill in their midfield positions this season. But do not think for one minute Virginia expects any drop-off in midfield production despite some changes in the starting rotation. UVa will be reloading, not rebuilding, its midfield in 2002.
Virginia will be without the services of “Mr. All-Everything,” Kyle Martino. The 2001 ACC Player of the Year, First Team NSCAA/Adidas All-American, All-ACC First Team and ACC All-Tournament selection took his game to the MLS and was a first round selection in the MLS SuperDraft. Graduation also removed Steve Totten, a valuable contributor from the starting lineup. However, several returning midfielders are ready and waiting to fill their shoes.
One of the players groomed to fill the midfield vacancies is Jacob LeBlanc. LeBlanc had a breakout year last season and proved to be a very dangerous midfielder. He surfaced as both a goal scorer and as an assist producer and was the only Cav to start all 20 games last season. LeBlanc was fourth on the team in scoring in 2001 with six assists and two goals and was second only to Martino in assists. Four of LeBlanc’s assists were game-winners, a team-high figure.
Another familiar face in the Cavaliers’ midfield is returning starter Kenny Arena. Arena turned in his most productive season last year and quietly finished fifth on the team in scoring with three goals (one game-winner) and three assists. A strong, physical presence in the midfield, Arena uses his height to his advantage to regularly win UVa possessions off headed balls. Arena’s balance of scoring and ball-winning will be counted on once again this season.
After sitting out the entire 2001 season to rehabilitate a leg injury, Ryan Kelly is primed to pick-up where he left off after a productive first-year campaign in 2000. Kelly started 14 games two years ago and recorded eight points on four goals, including one game-winner. He is an active player who is a tough match-up for the opposition and is hungry to get back into action this season.
Kirk Dinnal also looks to solidify a starting position in the midfield after an impressive year of performances last season. Dinnal dished-out three assists including one game-winner. He also has the ability to play up front as a forward if needed and is a relentless hustler in the midfield and in the flank areas.
Like Dinnal, fourth-year returner Eric Solomon will also battle for playing time. Solomon is coming off two consecutive seasons where his play has been both beneficial and vital to UVa’s success. He scored seven points on three assists and two goals last season and just missed recording the 46th hat trick in Virginia history after posting six points (two goals and two assists) in one game.
Sean Feeney has provided solid depth to the Cavaliers’ midfield for several years and returns as a fourth-year midfielder after scoring three points (one goal, one assist) in 2001. Feeney and second-year returner Zane Hill, will battle for playing time in the midfield. First-year newcomer Joe Vide brings international experience to the table as he also looks to contribute and factor into the lineup this season. Vide’s style of play has been compared to that of Martino.
As is the case with its forwards, Virginia also returns two of the nation’s best defenders with the returning duo of Jonathan Cole and Matt Oliver. The pair of All-ACC defenders helped the Cavaliers surrender only 12 goals the entire 2001 season en route to posting 11 shutouts. In fact, Cole and Oliver were so instrumental to the UVa defense, they helped Virginia record seven consecutive shutout victories where it did not allow a goal scored over a 37-day period stretching from September 9 – October 17.
Cole is a physical defender who chipped-in six points with two goals and two assists last season. A well-rounded player, Cole also has a knack for positioning himself in scoring position on corner kicks and scored two game-winning goals on corners last year with his play in the air around the box. Cole was a First Team All-ACC selection in 2001 and looks to duplicate that feat again this year.
Oliver is an athletic man-marker who’s defensive prowess allows him to shut down the opposition’s best forwards. A Soccer America Freshman All-American and a Second Team All-ACC performer in 2001, Oliver looks to build upon last year’s success and become an even bigger factor this season. He also posted one assist last year, and made it count as it resulted in a game-winning goal.
Look for a pair of second-year defenders, John Hartman and Jeff Tuman, to shore up the void left in the backfield due to the graduation of both Marshall Leonard and Curtis Bush. Hartman made five starts after appearing in 13 games last year and Tuman played in three contests last season. Both defenders look to solidify starting spots in the Cavaliers’ defense.
Two newcomers, Hunter Freeman and Joe Villanueva, will challenge Hartman and Tuman for the starting backfield roles. Freeman was one of the top recruits in the country and has the inside track for one of the starting positions due to his versatility to play anywhere in the defense.
For the past three years, Virginia has had the luxury of having the services of David Comfort between the pipes. One of the most underrated players in the ACC, Comfort has developed into one of the conference’s best goalkeepers and is certainly UVa’s main man in goal. After battling former Cavalier Kyle Singer for playing time the last three seasons, the starting job is now Comfort’s to own. He is an All-ACC caliber goalkeeper who is etching his name into the Virginia career record books.
Comfort turned in yet another superb season of play last year after allowing only 11 goals in the 17 games he appeared in. He posted a 0.64 goals against average and recorded an .810 saves percentage while tallying a team-high nine shutouts. Comfort was in goal for all six of UVa’s conference shutouts and recorded 47 saves for the year. His tall frame, good footwork and understanding of the game makes him the leading candidate as the starting goalkeeper.
Back-up goalkeeper Brett Mayer-Aschhoff has yet to make an appearance in a game, but has developed into a competent back-up who could see some playing time this year with Singer’s departure. First-year newcomer Aaron Haas adds depth at the goalkeeper position where playing time is at a premium.
Gelnovatch, the 2001 ACC Coach of the Year, needs just one victory to record his 100th victory as head coach at UVa. This milestone has been long-awaited and would have been achieved last season had Virginia won either the ACC Championship game or advanced to the third round in the NCAA Tournament. His next win will give him his 100th career coaching victory, highlighting his many achievements.
Gelnovatch has put together an outstanding six-year stretch of coaching performances at UVa. His 99-28-12 (.755) career coaching record also includes an impressive 23-7-6 (.722) mark against ACC competition. Gelnovatch has guided Virginia to either the ACC Championship or as the runner-up in the ACC Tournament in five of the six years he has coached the team and he has led UVa to the NCAA Tournament all six years as head coach of the Cavaliers. He guided Virginia to the NCAA Championship contest in 1997 and to three consecutive NCAA Quarterfinal matches from 1998-2000. This year, he will look to lead the Cavaliers even further.
Fresh off an assistant coaching stint with Bruce Arena and the U.S. National Team in the 2002 World Cup, Gelnovatch will look to couple that experience with his previous six years of coaching at Virginia in hopes of a national championship title in 2002.
UVa assistant coaches Craig Reynolds and Mike McGinty return to aid Gelnovatch in 2002, as does strength and conditioning coach Pierre Barrieu. Reynolds returns for his seventh season as Gelnovatch’s top assistant and McGinty is back for his fourth season as the goalkeeper coach. Barrieu, who also assisted Arena in the 2002 World Cup, returns for his second year of duties with the men’s soccer program.
As is always the case with a Gelnovatch coached team, Virginia will face one of the toughest schedules in the country. The Cavaliers will prepare for their regular season campaign with two exhibition matches against Big Ten opponents (Michigan State and Indiana) before kicking-off its 2002 season by hosting Kentucky and Rhode Island in the Virginia Soccer Classic. UVa will then face Virginia Commonwealth and Penn State in the Maryland/Fila Classic the following weekend.
Of course, Virginia will once again compete in the ACC, one of the toughest conferences in the country, against conference foes: Clemson, Duke, North Carolina, N.C. State, Maryland and Wake Forest. In all, Virginia will host 12 regular season home games including Marshall, American, Old Dominion, Liberty, Pittsburgh, Temple and Hartwick. The Cavaliers will also face in-state rival William & Mary in Virginia Beach on a neutral site. UVa will not play a single non-conference road game all year.
Following the conclusion of the regular season, Virginia will participate in the ACC Tournament in Cary, N.C. at the SAS Stadium before the chance to compete in the 2002 NCAA Division I Men’s Soccer Championship. The 2002 Men’s College Cup will be held in Dallas, Texas at the Gerald J. Ford Stadium.