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Sept. 3, 2012

CHARLOTTESVILLE – At the time, it seemed like a wise move, adding early-season games with Pac-12 powers California and UCLA to Virginia’s 2012 men’s soccer schedule.

After his team dropped its opener to Georgetown, however, UVa coach George Gelnovatch might have wondered if he’d scheduled too ambitiously. With No. 22 Cal and No. 11 UCLA coming to Klöckner Stadium, the Cavaliers could have been facing an 0-3 start.

“But to be honest, these things are planned in advance, and any time you get an opportunity to get UCLA to come here, and Cal, you gotta jump on it,” Gelnovatch said Sunday night.

“You take the opportunity to have them come in, and you go for it.”

The Wahoos, who lost 2-1 in overtime Aug. 24 to Georgetown in Germantown, Md., earned a split at Klöckner. They edged Cal 2-1 on Friday and lost 1-0 in overtime to UCLA two nights later.

With the Cavaliers (1-2) unable to clear the ball out of the box after a restart, Joe Sofia scored with 28 seconds left in the first of what might have been two 10-minute OT periods. His golden goal sent the Bruins (1-1-1) back to the West Coast on a high note.

“It was just a tough scenario, a tough flurry,” Virginia goalie Spencer LaCivita said. “It’s bouncing around in there, it’s pretty chaotic. Unfortunately it fell right to the striker, but we’ll get better and we’ll be better next time.”

All-ACC forward Will Bates said: “It’s always a tough way to go down, but I think it’s just something you take, and you learn from it. You look back at the film, see what went wrong and maybe you change a few things the next time we get in that situation.”

In last year’s College Cup, the Bruins lost on penalty kicks to eventual NCAA champion North Carolina in the semifinals. Sofia, a junior, is among the veterans back from that UCLA team.

Against UVa, the Bruins started four seniors, four juniors, one sophomore and two freshmen. The `Hoos countered with five freshmen, five sophomores and one junior.

“We’re a talented group. We’re a good group,” Gelnovatch said. “We need a little seasoning, a little marinating. Our guys need to get a little stronger, they need to get a little more mature, but the talent’s there, and in their defense, the schedule that I’ve put together for them has been really tough, and my hope is that it’ll be a good segue and preparation for the ACC.”

Next up for Virginia is its conference opener, Friday at 7:30 p.m. against Duke (1-2) at Klöckner. The Blue Devils advanced to the NCAA tournament’s second round last year.

“I don’t know if we’ve ever had a schedule this tough, but it’s great,” Bates said.

Georgetown, 4-0, is now nationally ranked and figures to be an NCAA tournament team.

“I think the experience going forward for our really young group, especially, will be huge in the future,” LaCivita said.

Bates, a senior who led the `Hoos in scoring in 2011, tore his right ACL late last October. He was cleared by the start of preseason practice last month, but then suffered a bone bruise in a collision with a teammate and had to sit out the opener against Georgetown.

He came off the bench to play 41 minutes against Cal and 72 versus UCLA.

“It felt good,” Bates said. “I’m just trying to get my fitness back.”

Bates, with 34 career goals, is a proven threat offensively. Freshman forward Darius Madison doesn’t have much of a college résumé yet, but the speed and quickness he flashed repeatedly against UCLA make him dangerous, “and as this team grows and gets a little bit better and more experienced, he’ll be a legitimate handful for anybody,” Gelnovatch said.

Joining Madison in the starting lineup Sunday night were classmates Zach Carroll, Scott Thomsen, Brian James and Marcus Salandy-Defour.

The sophomores who started for Virginia were LaCivita, Matt Brown, Chris Somerville, Eric Bird and Ryan Zinkhan.

One of the most gifted members of the Cavaliers’ second-year class, Kyler Sullivan, is recovering from mono and has yet to play this season. Sullivan, who started at right back in 2011, is expected back at training this week, Gelnovatch said, and could be cleared to play Sept. 11 against Mount St. Mary’s at Klöckner.

Sullivan’s return will bolster a backline that includes two freshmen — Carroll and Thomsen. LaCivita is only three games into his second college season, but until Sullivan returns he’s by far the most experienced member of UVa’s defense. LaCivita started all 21 matches for the `Hoos last season.

“I’ve been trying at the beginning of this year to embrace that role as a leader on the team, even though I’m only a sophomore,” LaCivita said. “When Kyler’s back in, it’s two freshmen and two sophomores, and me in the goal as a sophomore. So I’ve been trying to kind of take a leadership role with that and help organize them and help bring the young guys along and get them ready for ACC and big-time play like tonight.”

The Cavaliers had stretches late in the first half and early in the second when they threatened UCLA. Overall, though, the Bruins dominated possession and had more scoring opportunities, the last of which they finally converted.

“They’re a good team,” Gelnovatch said. “It wasn’t easy to take the ball off them. They were strong, and they were skillful all over the field. The one part that we did very, very well is, I thought, we were very organized and defended very well in the last third of the field.”

Gelnovatch said he came away from the Georgetown game believing his team should have won. That wasn’t necessarily the case Sunday night.

“This game, the opponent was more in possession of the ball,” he said. “They’re an older group, a very determined group, with a bunch of guys back from that [College Cup] team. That’s the first time we’ve run into that, and so I felt like we did a pretty good job of being really organized, defending very well. My hope was that the worst-case scenario would have been to get a tie and a point out of this.”

Sofia made sure that didn’t happen. Still, Gelnovatch did not leave Klöckner discouraged Sunday night.

“To be honest with you, UCLA’s a very, very good team,” he said. “We may not see another team that good, even in our conference.”

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