By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — The Streak is at 1,017 minutes, 34 seconds and counting.
Is it any wonder UVa is headed to the NCAA men’s soccer quarterfinals?
The second-seeded Cavaliers have not allowed a goal since Oct. 17, when they whipped Virginia Tech 3-1 in Blacksburg. They scored only once Sunday afternoon, in the 46th minute, but that was enough to eliminate Portland at Klöckner Stadium in the NCAA tournament’s third round.
UVa junior Diego Restrepo has been in goal for all 61,054 of those scoreless seconds.
“It’s nice,” he said. “I don’t want it to end.”
Next to test ACC champion Virginia’s impenetrable defense will be Maryland. The Wahoos (16-3-3) host the defending NCAA champion Terrapins (15-5-2) at 7 p.m. Friday, with the winner advancing to the College Cup.
These ACC rivals already have met twice this season. They played to a scoreless tie Oct. 31 in College Park. Then, at the ACC tournament, UVa edged Maryland 1-0 on Nov. 11 in Cary, N.C.
“We’re playing for one game to be in the College Cup,” George Gelnovatch said. “At this point, when you get to the quarterfinals, you’re getting a good team. There’s no one sneaking through to the quarterfinals.
“We have a lot of respect for Maryland, and we’re looking forward to having them at our place Friday.”
This is Gelnovatch’s 14th season as head coach, and he’s guided the ‘Hoos to the final four twice. This is the seventh time UVa has reached the NCAA quarterfinals under Gelnovatch.
“The College Cup is what sometimes you’re measured by,” he said Sunday. “Fortunately we’re at home, we know our opponent very well — as they do us — and we have a week to get ready, as opposed to a day at the ACC tournament. So that’ll be good.”
Virginia opened the season Sept. 4 with a 3-0 win over Portland in Oregon. The rematch, played in unseasonably warm weather before a crowd of 3,389, was much tighter.
An offsides call nullified an apparent goal by UVa’s Neil Barlow in the first half. Early in the second, however, sophomore Tony Tchani passed ahead to classmate Shawn Barry on the right flank.
Here’s redshirt freshman Ari Dimas on what happened next:
“Shawn Barry made a run up the right flank and played a great ball across the face of the goal,” Dimas said. “I was making a run to the far post and didn’t have much of an angle, so I was just trying to direct it on to the frame. Luckily the keeper was sliding to his right, and his momentum carried him, and I got the ball to the [goalie’s] left.”
The ball, seemingly in slow motion, rolled across the line to give Dimas the first goal of his college career.
“In the locker room [at halftime] we talked about coming out hard, not letting them get the ball, coming out with lots of intensity and passion,” Dimas said, “and we wanted to get the first goal early to kind of take them out of the game.”
The goal had the opposite effect on the Pilots (12-6-5). Portland, with the wind at its back, dominated most of the final 45 minutes. The Pilots outshot UVa 10-4 in the second half, and they had seven corner kicks to only two for Gelnovatch’s club.
“The first half we had the wind, and that’s why I thought we were attacking better,” said Restrepo, a transfer from the University of South Florida. “But in the second half, as you could tell, they started being more direct, so the wind was helping them a lot. And the sun was brutal out there when they were playing long balls, because you couldn’t see.”
Gelnovatch said: “The second half with the wind, they became very direct, and to their credit they were very good at it, just putting balls in behind us that carried into the wind, that had us twisting and turning and were tough to deal with.”
Fortunately for the Cavaliers, they had Restrepo in goal. In recording his 14th shutout of the season, he finished with six saves. They weren’t all routine as UVa’s unbeaten streak reached 13 games.
“You ask for one of those in a big game,” Gelnovatch said, “one of those big saves that keep you winning … We got two big plays [from Restrepo] today.”
It’s been ages since Virginia surrendered a goal. Does Gelnovatch worry about how his players will respond should an opponent score again?
“I’ve thought about it a lot,” he said. “What if you go down a goal, and do you talk to your team about it beforehand?
“But the thing is, we’ve been there. [Early in] the season we were down a goal at Washington, on the road, and we were down a goal at Virginia Tech, which is a really tough place to play.”
UVa won both games.
“We’re young,” Gelnovatch said, “but I’ve still got enough older guys on the field, including Diego, that if we get scored on — I hope we don’t — we’ll be fine.”