Sept. 23, 2010

By Jeff White

CHARLOTTESVILLE — Flashes, George Gelnovatch calls them. The UVa men’s soccer coach is referring to those moments this season when oft-injured forward Brian Ownby has looked like, well, Brian Ownby on the field.

They’re occurring more frequently.

“I would probably be nervous if he was firing on all cylinders,” Gelnovatch said. “I want him firing on all cylinders come November. He’s getting his legs, getting his fitness. But if he can periodically get us a goal, that’s great too.”

Ownby has 2 goals and an assist for the fifth-ranked Cavaliers (0-1-1 ACC, 4-1-1 overall), who play Saturday night at Clemson. His second goal came Tuesday night in a 2-0 win over American at Klöckner Stadium.

“It’s easy to play off a guy like Ownby,” said sophomore forward Will Bates, Virginia’s leading scorer. “He takes care of all the defenders and makes them worry about him as well and not only myself. Brian’s got a lot of talent. He’s proved it on a world stage.”

A 6-0, 160-pound junior from the Richmond area, Ownby played for the United States in the under-20 World Cup last year. He was named to the ACC’s all-freshman team in 2008 but has struggled to stay healthy since then.

During preseason practice in August 2009, Ownby hurt his groin. The injury didn’t sideline him, and he played in UVa’s first three games last season before heading to the under-20 World Cup in Egypt.

Not long after he returned to Grounds in early October, however, Ownby was diagnosed with a sports hernia. The injury limited him to about 25 minutes a game for the rest of the season.

Even so, Ownby occasionally flashed his considerable skills, most memorably Dec. 11 at the College Cup in Cary, N.C.

About three minutes into the first overtime, the Deep Run High School graduate scored a breathtaking goal to give Virginia a 2-1 victory over Wake Forest. Two days later, UVa beat Akron in a penalty-kick shootout to capture the NCAA championship.

Later that month, Ownby had an operation to repair a double sports hernia. His rehab went well, but his injury problems weren’t over. In March, Ownby needed another operation after being diagnosed with two abductor tears.

“I would say I’m probably almost 100 percent,” Ownby said Tuesday night. “During the first preseason game, I could barely last 30 minutes, and now I’m going 90, and maybe even more if we need it.”

Gelnovatch agreed that Ownby’s fitness level is excellent, “because he’s been working pretty hard all summer. I think it’s timing, and it’s touch.”

Both should steadily improve as the season progresses.

“You just gotta play,” Gelnovatch said. “Minutes, minutes, minutes.”

A season ago, UVa’s offense ran through midfielders Tony Tchani and Jonathan Villanueva. Both are gone, and now forwards Ownby, Bates and Brian “Cobi” Span, an immensely gifted freshman, are the focal points of the Cavaliers’ attack.

“With his pace, and the way he can hold guys off, when Brian gets healthy and gets back,” Bates said, “it’s going to be a really strong threesome, with me, him and Cobi Span up top.”

Span, with 6 points, on 2 goals and 2 assists, is tied for second on the team in scoring.

“He’s making progress. He really is,” Gelnovatch said after the American game. “He’s got so much ability technically, athletically. It’s just going to take a little time to get him going. I want him at his best in November, too.”

In high school and club soccer, Gelnovatch said, players such as Span and Ownby “can get away with being so fast and so good on the ball that [they] can literally take on five people and just kind of run to goal. It doesn’t work here. You’ve got to get your head up, you’ve got to pass, you’ve got to combine. We’re working on it.”

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