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Sept. 18, 2013

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CHARLOTTESVILLE — If ever a team needed a convincing victory, it was the UVa men’s soccer team Tuesday night.

Four nights after a 3-2 loss at No. 9 Wake Forest, Virginia took the field at Klöckner Stadium to face No. 23 George Mason on a brisk evening. Against Wake, the Cavaliers scored two late goals and then nearly got the equalizer in the final seconds, on a header by freshman midfielder Jordan Allen, but they could not overcome the defensive blunders that had left them trailing 3-0.

“We thought we played pretty well,” junior midfielder Eric Bird said, “but we made those three key mistakes, and good teams are going to capitalize, and that’s exactly what happened. It was bittersweet. We like doing that at the end, keeping it interesting, but at the same time we’re looking for results, and 3-2 is not what we’re looking for.”

Neither is 1-3, which was the Wahoos’ record after the loss in Winston-Salem. Coming out of the weekend, those four opponents were a combined 16-4, but that was small consolation for UVa, which began the season nationally ranked. That Mason came in with a 4-0-1 record only raised the stakes Tuesday night.

“This was a huge game for us,” Bird said. “We talked about it before the game. We kind of dug ourselves into a hole, and this is the night we need to reverse it.”

The `Hoos played without injured starters Zach Carroll (hamstring) and Marcus Salandy-Defour (groin). Even so, they dominated in a 3-0 win over the Patriots. The three goals were a season high for UVa, which easily could have scored five.

“It was a good performance against a veteran team,” Virginia coach George Gelnovatch said. “There were a lot of seniors out there for that [GMU} team. They’re athletic, they’re strong. We had to make a lot of good connections and play good soccer. Our pressure was really good.”

Junior forward Ryan Zinkhan put Virginia ahead to stay in the 15th minute, knocking home a header from sophomore midfielder Darius Madison, ending a sequence that began with a long cross from junior defender Kyler Sullivan.

Sophomore midfielder Brian James’ second goal of the season made it 2-0. It came 81 seconds before halftime, when James cleaned up the rebound of junior midfielder Bryan Lima’s deflected shot in the box. In the 70th minute, Madison broke down his defender and scored from 18 yards, capping a memorable night for a program that has made 32 consecutive appearances in the NCAA tournament.

Next up for the Cavaliers, who started only one senior against Mason, defender Kevin McBride, is their ACC home opener. Virginia takes on NC State (3-1, 1-1) at 7 p.m. Friday at Klöckner.

“I think winning this game will certainly help us in scoring goals,” Gelnovatch said. “But we all felt coming off that Wake game that we outplayed them, as bizarre as that sounds. There’s nobody that’s not believing in themselves, and this really helps. I think if you don’t win this game, you start to get that little creep of doubt in there.”

Only once in its first four games had Virginia scored the first goal. Not coincidentally, perhaps, that happened in the game UVa won, 2-0 over St. John’s, which is No. 7 in the latest NSCAA rankings.

“So that’s huge for us to get on top,” Bird said, “and then we kind of settle down into our game and get the passing going, and that’s the way we want to play.”

Madison was one of the jewels of the recruiting class that enrolled at UVa last summer, and he made the ACC’s all-freshman team last fall. But he scored only two goals in 2012 and entered his sophomore season determined to have a bigger impact around the goal.

He finally broke through Tuesday night.

“It just felt good to get the first goal of the season,” Madison said. “Now I’m confident. I played well tonight, and I’m just ready to make some production, put some goals on the board and get some wins.”

Gelnovatch said: “With guys like him, games like this where you can get yourself a goal — and he set up the first one — I think it means a lot. He had a good night tonight. That goal he scored was a very, very good goal. He really, really took that well. Composed, good finish. If he can get a second and third goal in these upcoming games and start getting some wind in his sails, I think he’ll be all right.”

Also encouraging for the `Hoos was the play of James, who came off the bench for the first time this season.

“He wasn’t playing because he wasn’t playing well,” Gelnovatch said, “and so his response tonight was excellent.”

So was his team’s.

“We have a goal that we talked about at the beginning of the season: no Tuesday night letdowns,” Bird said, “and we want to make Klöckner a fortress again. So we wanted to come out and get a `W,’ and hopefully this will help us get some steam and get on a streak, especially going into ACCs.”

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