Nov. 25, 2016

By Jeff White (

CHARLOTTESVILLE — Look at the roster, and it’s natural to conclude that 2017 could be a special year for the University of Virginia in men’s soccer. Only three seniors are playing prominent roles for the Cavaliers this fall: forward Marcus Salandy-Defour and midfielders Nicko Corriveau and Paddy Foss. Of the seven UVA players who received All-ACC recognition early this month, none is a senior.

“I think if you look at next year, we’re going to be on everybody’s preseason list,” said goalkeeper Jeff Caldwell, a junior who was named second-team All-ACC. “But I think people have kind of overlooked our résumé, our body of work this year. We’ve beaten North Carolina on the road, Notre Dame at home. We’re an 11-win team. We haven’t lost at home. I don’t think people understand how big of an accomplishment that is.

“Hopefully we can put together the results that we put together in the 2014 postseason, and we’re looking to do that. I think this year is as much a year for us as next year will be.”

In 2014, Caldwell backed up starter Calle Brown on the UVA team that won the program’s seventh NCAA title. In 2015, Caldwell took over in goal on a team that lost at Maryland in the NCAA tournament’s second round.

This season, as the No. 12 seed in the 48-team NCAA tourney, Virginia earned a first-round bye. The Wahoos then ousted Vermont 2-1 last weekend to advance to the round of 16 for the third time in four seasons.

Sunday, at 8 p.m. Eastern, Virginia (11-3-5) plays at No. 5 seed Stanford (12-3-4), with the winner advancing to face No. 4 seed Louisville or No. 13 seed Notre Dame in the NCAA quarterfinals.

“Stanford’s going to be a tough trip,” Caldwell said, “but there aren’t any easy games at this time in the postseason, and I think we have put ourselves in a position to win games, no matter where they’re played or who they’re against.”

Of the 16 teams left in the NCAA tourney, eight are from the ACC.

“You’d always rather be at home,” UVA head coach George Gelnovatch said, “but if I’ve got to play against somebody on the road, I’d prefer it to be somebody [from outside the ACC], to be honest with you. If you keep winning, playing another ACC opponent, it’s inevitable. But I like a fresh look.”

Caldwell, who’s from the small town of Todd, N.C., near Boone, will have a sizable cheering section at Stanford.

His sister, a former goalkeeper at Furman, lives in Santa Cruz, Calif., and she’ll be at the game Sunday night. So will Caldwell’s parents and his girlfriend, along with an aunt, uncle and cousins. Several other UVA players will have family members in attendance, too.

“I think we’re going to be pretty well-represented,” Caldwell said, “and I’m excited for it.”

Caldwell, who has represented the United States at the U17, U18 and U20 levels, was named to the All-ACC third team as a sophomore. There’s been more improvement this year, said UVA associate head coach Terry Boss, a former Major League Soccer goalkeeper.

“I think Jeff’s just kind of stayed with the process,” Boss said, “and he keeps getting better, keeps getting more mature. This year we’ve asked him to be more involved in our build-up phase, and he’s really risen to the challenge. He really has started to see the pass early, understand what we’re trying to do, and his feet have been very, very good. He’s a plus-1 for us in the back. He helps us create a numerical advantage, and he’s been excellent in the back.”

Caldwell said he and Boss “spent the whole spring really working on technique and tactics of playing out of the back, and I think it’s really paid dividends and shown this semester.

“I had a real hot streak last fall. At the end of the fall I hit a really good vein of form, and in a way I never hit that hot streak per se this year, and I think I’m most pleased with how steady things have been this year.”

Boss said Caldwell has “made strides in all areas, from leadership to his distribution to shot-stopping. It’s been fun to watch him progress. He’s got a great future in this game.”

Since a 6-1 loss at Louisville at Sept. 24, Virginia has posted an 8-1-3 record and allowed only four goals. Caldwell has been instrumental in this surge, and he ranks among the best goalkeepers Gelnovatch has had in 21 seasons as head coach at his alma mater.

The value of a good goalkeeper can’t be overstated.

“A good example would be our national championship years, 2009 and 2014, with Diego Restrepo and Calle Brown,” Gelnovatch said. “Those were good teams, but I don’t think you can win [NCAA titles] without those two guys in the goal. So I think it’s a really important piece, and Jeff is in that mold. He’s in that caliber now, there’s no question, let alone next year.

“He’s got a year left of eligibility, and he’s put himself in a really good position. And this hasn’t happened overnight. He’s been a perfect case for player development, and he’s benefited from, I’d like to think, some good coaching, being in a good program, getting games, playing in a good conference, playing a good schedule.

“And he works hard. He comes in to watch video almost every day. He pays attention to detail. The kid wants to get better. So he has that piece.”

In each of the past three summers, Caldwell has played for the Seattle Sounders’ U23 team in the Premier Development League.

“I love it out there,” Caldwell said. “I think of Seattle as a second home.”

In the summer of 2013, he had trials with four English clubs — Fulham, Arsenal, West Ham and Brentford — and he plans to play professionally after leaving UVA.

“It’s all about getting as many matches as you can when you’re young,” Caldwell said. “I think goalkeepers do tend to peak around anywhere between 26 and 30, 32. It just depends on how many games you’re able to amass. If you start playing competitively at a professional level, when you’re 20, 22, you might peak a little earlier.

“The way I kind of look at it is, you’ve just got to find a way to really hang on and continue to develop your craft no matter your circumstances. And then after a while, it’s like everything else. You can see it when you’re coming up through high school and college: guys just drop off. The herd becomes thinner and thinner and thinner, and if you’re there at the end, then I guess you’ve kind of won. That’s ideally what I hope to do with my career.”

Caldwell is the Cavaliers’ captain, and he’s “developing in that regard, too,” Gelnovatch said. “I don’t think it’s a 100-percent natural perfect fit for him now, but we’re kind of putting it on him, for it to become more in his DNA and more who he is. And I think he’s embraced it, and he’s had success, so the guys I think can now all have confidence in him and have that respect, and that’ll carry over.”

A history major, Caldwell enrolled at UVA in January 2014, and he’s on track to graduate next December. Having played on one NCAA championship team, he’s driven to reach the college game’s summit again.

“I think I want it more, because I was a part of that team, but I wasn’t in goal,” Caldwell said. “Everything I’ve learned from that experience is invaluable, and I think all the guys who were here [in 2014] would say that. We want it a little bit more, because you really do want to be the guy on the field for that.

“I can’t think of a better motivator than already having tasted that and wanting at least one more for myself.”

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