By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — The trophy they most want to win this year will be awarded Dec. 15 at PPL Park in Chester, Pa. — site of the next NCAA College Cup. But UVa men’s soccer players Zach Carroll, Patrick Foss, Todd Wharton and Ryan Zinkhan can already call themselves national champions.
The four Cavaliers played this summer for RVA Football Club, which captured the National Premier Soccer League title with a 2-0 victory over Sonoma County (Calif.) Sol in Richmond.
The Richmond-based club, whose coach is Grover Gibson, finished the season with a 10-0-2 record. A hamstring injury forced Carroll to miss the NPSL final, but Foss, Wharton and Zinkhan played in the Aug. 4 game at Sports Backers Stadium.
“It was really cool,” said Foss, a freshman defender from Northern Virginia who enrolled at UVa in January. “We had a pretty decent crowd, and they got pretty rowdy. We had some college kids out there behind the goals really making a lot of noise. It was a real fun game to play in.”
When the UVa players joined RVA FC early this season, they weren’t thinking about championships.
“I think our goal was kind of just the training aspect of it,” said Zinkhan, a junior forward from Fredericksburg. “We knew it was going to be a good environment for training, and then things just kind of fit together towards the end, and then it was, `Wow, we have a chance for this national title.’ ”
The NPSL consists of 57 teams, most of whose members are current or former college players or former pros. That one of those teams — RVA FC — is so close to Charlottesville worked out perfectly for his players, Virginia coach George Gelnovatch said.
“It’s unbelievable,” Gelnovatch said. “It’s a great, great opportunity.”
“It was cool to see them there,” said Wharton, a sophomore midfielder who recorded an assist on the game’s first (and decisive) goal.
The team trained most days during the summer. Wharton, a graduate of Deep Run High School in western Henrico County, lived at home this summer, so travel wasn’t a problem for him. Carroll, a sophomore defender from Grand Blanc, Mich., and Foss commuted to Richmond from Charlottesville.
“A lot of gas money,” Carroll said with a smile. “It was expensive.”
The good news, Foss said, was that he and Carroll “could still get in the weight room with UVa guys and still play a lot of soccer.”
Zinkhan lived in Fredericksburg for part of the summer and Charlottesville for the rest, so he did a lot driving too. He considers it time well-spent.
“To me it doesn’t even feel like I had an offseason,” Zinkhan said Wednesday morning at UVa. “I feel like coming into this first practice, I’m already sharp, I’m already ready to go … It’s definitely beneficial for us coming in for the fall. We’re all sharp, we’ll all fit.”
Gelnovatch spoke highly of Gibson and praised the coaching the UVa players received in Richmond.
“I’m excited to see what that translates into [this fall],” Gelnovatch said. “One thing I worry about it is how much they played. That’s why I told them to take some time off after the championship.”
The Wahoos, coming off a season in which they advanced to the NCAA tournament’s second round, held their first practice Wednesday morning. Not including LaCivita, who’ll redshirt this fall, UVa has back 10 players who started at least 10 games apiece in 2012.
Virginia opens the season Aug. 31 against Louisville at Klöckner Stadium. That’s also where UVa will meet Radford in an exhibition game Tuesday night. Admission is free for that 7 o’clock game.
Carroll, Foss, Wharton and Zinkhan weren’t the only `Hoos who tested themselves outside Charlottesville this summer. Others included freshman Jordan Allen and sophomores Scott Thomsen, Marcus Salandy-Defour, Brian James and Darius Madison, some of whom trained or competed overseas.
“I feel like there’s got to be 12 to 15 guys that really went for it this summer,” Gelnovatch said.
“That core of first-year guys that were starters last year took the summer and really, really took it to heart, doing all sorts of things to get better. They really, really want to get better.”
FOR THE FANS: Meet the Team Day for UVa men’s and women’s soccer is Sunday at Klöckner Stadium, starting at 4 p.m.. Admission is free for the event, the first opportunity for fans to meet members of this year’s teams.
There will be free food at Meet the Team Day, along with opportunities for fans to get autographs from and take photographs with players and coaches. The event also will include giveaways and soccer activities.