By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — Maybe it’ll happen Wednesday night at Klöckner Stadium, against Davidson. Maybe it’ll be Saturday night at Syracuse, or Sept. 30 against JMU at Klöckner.
It’s impossible to say exactly when the UVa men’s soccer team will break out at the offensive end, but players and coaches alike are convinced the goals will soon start coming more easily.
“For sure,” junior forward Darius Madison said Sunday afternoon at Klöcknerockner. “Last year it took us a while to actually start finishing and get goals. But I think we’re coming along.”
Only once this season — in a 2-1 comeback win over UAB on Sept. 7 — have the Cavaliers scored more than one goal in a game. Sophomore forward Sam Hayward, a transfer from the University of Pennsylvania, leads the team in goals with two, and seniors midfielders Eric Bird and Ryan Zinkhan, junior midfielder Scott Thomsen and senior forward Kyle McCord have one apiece.
UVa’s offensive struggles have been due in no small part to injuries suffered by several of its most dangerous players: Madison (ankle), sophomores Riggs Lennon (ankle) and Nicko Corriveau (sports hernia), and junior Marcus Salandy-Defour, who is out for the season with a torn ACL.
Also, said Bird, who scored seven goals in 2013, the Wahoos are “still relatively new to this system. The 3-5-2 [formation] was just introduced to us five, six games ago. So we’re still getting used to it, and I think we’re going to start clicking and I think we’re going to start putting away a lot of goals — hopefully starting Wednesday against Davidson.”
On an unseasonably warm afternoon at Klöckner, No. 7 Virginia (4-1-1 overall, 1-0-1 ACC) scored only once Sunday against No. 5 Notre Dame (3-1-2, 1-0-1), which returned nine starters from the team that won the NCAA title in 2013. But the `Hoos defended fiercely, as usual, and earned a 1-1 tie with the Fighting Irish, as well as a valuable point in the ACC standings.
The goal, Bird’s first of the season, came with Virginia trailing 1-0 and playing with only 10 men. In the 65th minute, center back Wesley Suggs, a redshirt freshman, had been sent off with a red card after a hard tackle on Vince Cicciarelli in the box.
Notre Dame midfielder Patrick Hodan beat goalkeeper Calle Brown on the penalty kick that followed, and the `Hoos found themselves in an unenviable position. But it was one with which many of them were familiar.
In the Cavaliers’ run to the College Cup last season, they played Marquette in the NCAA quarterfinals at Klöckner. Fifty-seven seconds into that match, the `Hoos lost defender Matt Brown to a red card, yet they went on to win 3-1. And so Virginia’s players did not panic after Suggs was sent off Sunday.
“I think our team just responds well to a challenge like that, with a man down, coming back and tying it up,” Calle Brown said. “It’s really something that’s good going forward.”
“We played with one forward, and even that guy had to really, really defend,” Gelnovatch said. “When you go down a man, that’s just the nature of the beast, and we did a great job of it.”
After a brilliant save by Calle Brown, whose right hand knocked away a shot that nearly doubled the Irish’s lead, the Cavaliers pulled even in the 68th minute. Senior right back Kyler Sullivan passed to Bird in the box, and No. 11 did the rest, turning and firing a low shot past Notre Dame goalie Patrick Wall and into the far corner of the net.
“Very good little play,” Gelnovatch said.
Losing Suggs, Bird said, “kind of spurred us on. We went down and we obviously didn’t want to lose on Klöckner, in front of our own fans.”
In 2013, UVa was the only team to defeat Notre Dame. That was in the regular season, and Madison scored both goals in Virginia’s 2-0 victory in South Bend, Ind.
The teams met again in the ACC tournament semifinals. In Germantown, Md., after 110 minutes produced a 3-3 tie, the Cavaliers prevailed in penalty kicks.
The crowd of 2,292 took in 110 minutes of soccer Sunday, too, after which the game was declared a draw. (Penalty kicks are only for postseason games.) Notre Dame had more chances than UVa in the two overtime periods — the Irish outshot the Cavaliers 7-0 in those 20 minutes — but Calle Brown and his teammates refused to crack.
Brown, a Bunyanesque figure at 6-5, finished with four saves.
“Given the circumstances, playing down a man for 40, 45 minutes if you count overtime, I think they did great,” Gelnovatch said of his players.
Bird agreed. “Whenever you lose a guy, especially against a great opponent like Notre Dame, you don’t really expect to get a point out of the game.”
With temperatures in the high 80s on a humid afternoon, the Cavaliers were visibly dragging by game’s end. But the Irish suffered in the heat, too.
“It was brutal,” Madison said.
Before the second overtime, the Cavaliers huddled on the field, and Bird spoke up.
“I just wanted to reiterate to the guys, `Just keep focused. No mental lapses. We’ve come so far. We’ve battled adversity. Let’s not give it away on something stupid,’ ” Bird said.
Playing a man down, Madison said, the “mentality is, just don’t let up any goals, and when we get a chance, let’s try to finish it.”
The Cavaliers never got that second goal Sunday, but they didn’t let the Irish get it, either.
“Honestly, no, I’m not pleased with the result, but I’ll take it,” Madison said. “I’m proud of my team and how we fought off our backs.”
Lennon, who scored five goals in 2013, did not suit up Sunday. Madison played 60 minutes and Corriveau 30 off the bench. As their fitness improves, Gelnovatch believes, UVa’s productivity will increase.
“And look, it’s early too, and we’re all trying to get into form and trying to find our way a little bit,” Gelnovatch said.
“The one thing we’ve been really, really good about is not conceding. Just really good defensively. Pretty good in terms of possession, and creating some chances. And if we can do [that the way UVa did Sunday] — particularly down a man against a team like [Notre Dame] — we’ll be in good shape.”