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By Jeff White
jwhite@virginia.edu

CHARLOTTESVILLE — UVa coach George Gelnovatch went into 2010 knowing that if the season unfolded as Will Bates and Brian Ownby hoped, his team might lose one or both of the talented forwards to Major League Soccer in 2011.

Bates and Ownby, who both grew up in the Richmond area, were viewed as candidates for Generation adidas, a program that offers opportunities for select players to leave college early and be paid while pursuing MLS careers.

“I don’t think that it was it set in stone or anything like that,” Gelnovatch said, “but the discussion we had with both of them was, ‘Let’s see how things go and see what makes sense.’ “

The MLS draft is next Thursday in Baltimore, and neither Bates nor Ownby was offered a Generation adidas contract. Which means the Cavaliers, who were national champions in 2009, can expect to return their top two scorers from the team that was ousted in the NCAA tourney’s first round in 2010.

As a sophomore in 2010, Bates totaled 20 points, on 8 goals and 4 assists, despite missing three-plus games to injuries.

Ownby, a junior in 2010, scored 17 points, on 7 goals and 3 assists. He was named to the all-ACC first team, but his inability to train in the offseason kept him from reaching his potential.

Not long after UVa captured the NCAA crown in 2009, Ownby had an operation to repair a double sports hernia. His rehab from that surgery went well, but last March he needed another operation after being diagnosed with two abductor tears.

From the end of the 2009 College Cup until UVa’s first exhibition last year, Aug. 20 against VCU, “the kid didn’t play one minute of soccer,” Gelnovatch said.

“I think he got himself pretty fit, but he just never really got rhythm and sharpness. The good news is that he held up from an injury standpoint.”

Ownby, a member of the U.S. team that played in the under-20 World Cup in 2009, appeared in every game for the Wahoos (11-6-3) last season. Gelnovatch is eager to see what Ownby can accomplish after an offseason of training and conditioning.

“It’s tough to go from 0 to 100 [mph] and expect for things to just fall into place,” Gelnovatch said, “especially with the team that we had [in 2010]. It would have been a little bit easier, I think, with [the 2009] team, because there was just more support around him. I feel like at times Brian felt like he had to do everything, especially when Bates was out for that stretch of three or four games.

“He just wasn’t up for it. He just wasn’t in complete rhythm and sync, and it wore on him a little bit, to be honest with you.”

The injuries Bates suffered at Duke on Sept. 11 and against JMU a month later sidelined him for about three weeks in all.

Those were things Bates “didn’t have control over,” Gelnovatch said. Even so, it “wasn’t a great year for him. I have individual meetings with everybody after the season, and he and I agree that the things he has control over, he’s going to work on getting better at.

“I think he’s in a very, very good place in terms of being focused and eager to make himself better and do better.”

Of the 10 players recently signed to Generation adidas contracts, five are from Akron, which succeeded UVa as NCAA champion.

“I know the feeling,” Gelnovatch said.

After the 1997 season, in which UVa advanced to the NCAA title game, three of Gelnovatch’s best players — Ben Olsen, Scott Vermillion and Brian West — left school with eligibility remaining to pursue MLS careers.

Without them, Virginia still reached the NCAA quarterfinals in 1998. With the trio, the ‘Hoos might well have won it all that season.

That his team fell short of the College Cup in 2010 didn’t shock Gelnovatch, who lost such standouts as Tony Tchani, Neil Barlow, Jonathan Villanueva, Ross LaBauex and Shawn Barry from his championship team. His expectations for the coming season are much higher.

The Cavaliers’ 2010 roster included only two seniors — starting goalie Diego Restrepo and reserve defender T.J. Cyrus — and Gelnovatch raves about the talent and depth of his incoming first-year class.

He’s also excited about the potential of rising sophomore Brian Span, Virginia’s third-leading scorer in 2010. Span had 5 goals and 3 assists and made the ACC’s all-freshman team.

“Let me say that I think the college soccer world knows how talented this kid is,” Gelnovatch said. “He’s a super talent. It has shown in bits and pieces and sparks, but this kid has it all. He’s athletic, he’s got size, he’s fast, he’s super-technical.

“Now he’s got a season under his belt. So this spring we want to build on his experience from the fall, and hopefully next year he makes a really, really big impact.”

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