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July 28, 2014

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CHARLOTTESVILLE — Everywhere he looked while vacationing in his native New Jersey this month, UVa men’s soccer coach George Gelnovatch noticed people watching — and talking about — the World Cup, even after the United States was ousted in the round of 16.

TV ratings for the tournament, which ended with Germany’s 1-0 win over Argentina in the July 13 final, rose to unprecedented levels in the USA, and not only because the game times were convenient for American audiences.

“You don’t have to be a genius to figure out that means something,” said Gelnovatch, who was an assistant coach on the U.S. team that advanced to the World Cup quarterfinals in 2002. “Soccer is turning the corner in a lot of ways in this country.”

Interest in the sport never has been higher here. Attendance in Major League Soccer, the highest domestic professional league, is climbing, as are TV ratings for the English Premier League games shown on NBC platforms. Moreover, in 2015-16 Fox will begin broadcasting the top German league, Bundesliga, in North America.

“So there’s a lot out there for people to watch, for people to enjoy,” Gelnovatch said. “I just think there’s a big interest [in soccer]. It’s great.”

Still, as he heads into his 19th season as head coach at his alma mater, Gelnovatch worries that college men’s soccer is in danger of becoming irrelevant to elite players with professional aspirations.

“U.S. Soccer and Major League Soccer, I think they understand the need for college soccer, they understand that there’s a place for it,” Gelnovatch said, but their patience is not unlimited.

“It’s up to us — the NCAA, college soccer — to try to bring it a little bit more in line with FIFA and the rest of the world,” Gelnovatch said. “And the two biggest issues for me are the substitution rule and the length of the playing season.”

In FIFA games, each team is allowed only three substitutions, and players may not re-enter after being replaced. In NCAA soccer, substitution is virtually unlimited.

“I’m not saying it’s got to be fully in line with FIFA, where it’s just three substitutions, but it’s outdated,” Gelnovatch said. “It’s not the modern game. And then the second issue, which is a bigger issue, is the playing season.”

At most levels of soccer, including youth programs around the United States, players compete about 10 months a year. A college soccer season, for the NCAA finalists, lasts a little more than three months.

Gelnovatch and many of his peers support a proposal under which Division I men’s teams would play games in the spring as well as the fall. The College Cup would be moved from December to late spring, after the NCAA lacrosse Final Four ends.

Division I men’s teams currently practice and play exhibitions in the spring.

Under the proposed schedule, the preseason would start later each summer, Gelnovatch said, and the spring games would begin in March. A team would not play any more games, but they would be spread out over the school year.

“It’s the same schedule we do right now,” Gelnovatch said. “It’s just fewer games in the fall, and taking those six or seven fewer games that you play in the fall now and putting them in the spring. So there’s no midweek games. It’s one game a week, which is kind of the way it should be. You get to train more all year-round. You still get the break [in the winter]. There’s less missed school, because you’re not traveling midweek, and the costs are equal.”

The NCAA version of the sport differs so much from what’s played in the rest of the world, Gelnovatch said, that “if we don’t make some adjustment, in 10 years college soccer could have the same kind of relevance that high school soccer has right now. It’ll always be there, but if we make some adjustments, like the substitution rule and the length of the season, we can be [a key part of U.S. Soccer’s development pyramid] and actually be encouraged for those guys who aren’t ready for [pro soccer].”

WOMEN’S SOCCER: Had she not broken her collarbone in the spring of 2012, Makenzy Doniak might well have made the U.S. team that won the gold medal that summer at FIFA’s Under-20 Women’s World Cup in Japan.

Two years later, the UVa junior is ready to make her U-20 World Cup debut. Doniak, a forward from Chino Hills, Calif., was one of 21 players named this month to the U.S. squad that will try to repeat as world champions.

The U-20 Women’s World Cup will be held Aug. 5-24 in Canada.

“It’s a great honor for her,” Virginia coach Steve Swanson said. “We’re extremely proud of her, as we are all our kids who play for national teams.”

Swanson was head coach of the U.S. team at the U-20 Women’s World Cup in 2012. His standouts on the team included Morgan Brian, Virginia’s All-America midfielder.

That tournament ended Sept. 8, 2012, in Tokyo. By the time Swanson and Brian returned to Charlottesville, UVa was well into its fall semester, and the women’s soccer team had played eight games.

For Doniak, “two things make this a little less complicated,” Swanson said.

First, the 2014 World Cup is in North America, not in Asia. Second, the tournament ends earlier.

“If they do go to the final,” Swanson said, “Mak won’t miss any school and will miss only one game. From our standpoint, it’s certainly less complicated than the last cycle.”

Doniak was a first-team All-American in 2013, when UVa advanced to the College Cup. She’s totaled 30 goals and 14 assists in her two seasons with the Wahoos.

She won’t be the only representative from UVa on the U.S. team. Jaime Frias has been named an assistant coach for the United States.

This will be the second U-20 Women’s World Cup for Frias, one of Swanson’s assistants at Virginia. In 2012, Frias was a scout and performance analyst for the U.S. team, working extensively with video.

“We’ll miss him, obviously, in preseason, but we’ll get him back soon enough,” Swanson said.

FOOTBALL: Sophomore cornerback Tim Harris has an excellent mentor in senior safety Anthony Harris (no relation), who led the nation in interceptions and was named an All-American last season.

Injuries to two cornerbacks who began the season ahead of him on the depth chart – Demetrious Nicholson and Maurice Canady – forced Tim Harris into a prominent role as a true freshman. He started seven of the 11 games in which he appeared last year and struggled at times to adjust to the speed of the college game.

“The thing for him has just been cleaning up his technique, because he’s a bigger guy for a corner,” Anthony Harris said of Tim Harris, a Varina High School graduate who’s listed at 6-2, 200 pounds.

Asked this month about Tim Harris’ progress, Anthony Harris said, “He’s getting his body in good shape. He’s starting to develop muscle and develop explosiveness, and now it’s just all about [understanding] how the offense is going to attack you and what technique you need to use on certain plays and stuff like that. So that’s something I’ve been trying to work with him on, developing him, because he’s a guy with great size and great tackling ability who can run. He can be physical out there. So the more he can learn, the more we can utilize him and get him on the field.”

Another of Harris’ protégés is 6-1, 205-pound safety Malcolm Cook, who redshirted as a freshman last fall. As a senior on Fork Union Military Academy’s high school team in 2012, Cook intercepted nine passes, four of which he returned for touchdowns.

“He’s willing to learn,” Harris said. “There’s times when I’m reaching out to him, and then there’s times in practice when he’s just coming over to me and asking, `Is this the right call?’ or what should he be looking at, or how should he change his thinking of the offensive concepts and the defensive concepts. So he’s a guy who’s made some improvement in the spring. It shows he’s starting to grasp the defense, and going into camp it’ll be big for him to continue to grow and continue to develop mentally as well as physically.”

WOMEN’S BASKETBALL: Head coach Joanne Boyle bolstered her backcourt this summer with the addition of J’Kyra Brown, a transfer from East Carolina.

A 5-11 guard from Rocky Mount, N.C., Brown will have three years of eligibility at UVa after sitting out the 2014-15 season.

“She’s an offensive-minded strong guard that can really shoot it,” Boyle said.

Brown, the all-time leading scorer at Rocky Mount High School, averaged 5.9 points for ECU in 2013-14 and twice was named Conference USA’s freshman of the week. Her most memorable game was a 29-point performance against Louisiana Tech in which she hit 11 of 14 shots from the floor, including 6 of 8 from beyond the 3-point arc.

“She’s got to work on her defense, but I think she’s very talented offensively,” Boyle said.

In late April, Brown received her release from ECU and started looking at other schools. Boyle wasn’t familiar then with Brown, who had committed to East Carolina after her sophomore year at Rocky Mount.

“I actually was contacted by her AAU coach that I know,” Boyle said. “I did my homework and talked to a lot of people about her, because I did not know her out of high school. She’s a great kid, and everybody has said great things about her.”

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