By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE –– In 2014, when the University of Virginia men’s soccer team captured the program’s seventh NCAA title, the Cavaliers had to win road games against Notre Dame and Georgetown to reach the College Cup.
“It’s the hard way,” UVA coach George Gelnovatch said.
As long as the Wahoos keep winning, their postseason path will be less arduous this year. After defeating Wake Forest 1-0 in the ACC semifinals Wednesday night, the Hoos almost certainly have locked up a top-four seed in the NCAA tournament. As such, they could play as many as three games at Klöckner Stadium in the NCAAs.
“It’s obviously very big for us, because this is our fortress, this is our home, in front of our fans,” sophomore forward Daryl Dike said. “It’s like having another man when we play here. It’s definitely great, especially in the playoffs. We know every single game is going to be difficult, so we’re definitely going to need the home-field advantage.”
The NCAA tournament field will be announced Monday afternoon. The Cavaliers’ immediate concern is the ACC championship game. At noon Sunday, second-seeded Virginia (16-1-1) meets top-seeded Clemson (16-1-1) at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, N.C., also the site of next month’s College Cup.
ESPNU will televise the ACC title game. Clemson advanced with a 1-0 win over fourth-seeded Pitt. The Cavaliers and the Tigers did not meet during the regular season.
Under Gelnovatch, Virginia has won the ACC tournament four times: in 1997, 2003, 2004 and 2009. In 2017, UVA advanced to the ACC title game, only to fall to Wake in a penalty-kick shootout.
Nathaniel Crofts, a forward from England, was a freshman on that Virginia team. In frigid conditions Wednesday at Klöckner Stadium, Crofts scored the game-winner.
In the 25th minute, sophomore Daniel Steedman sent a pass to senior Robin Afamefuna in the left corner. Afamefuna crossed the ball into the box, where Crofts finished with his left foot.
The goal was Crofts’ fifth of the season, and he nearly added another one in the 88th minute. The third-seeded Demon Deacons (13-4-2) managed only one shot on goal.
“We were focused,” Crofts said. “We knew we couldn’t underestimate Wake.”
The Cavaliers played without one of their captains, Joe Bell, who earlier in the day was named the ACC’s midfielder of the year. Bell, a junior, was called into the New Zealand national team last weekend, and he’ll play for the All Whites in friendlies against Ireland (Thursday) and Lithuania (Sunday).
“For a male college player to be called into an international friendly with [his nation’s] full team, that’s massive,” Gelnovatch said.
Bell will be back in Charlottesville well ahead of the NCAA tournament. In Bell’s absence Wednesday, sophomore Cabrel Happi Kamseu shined in his first start of the season.
“Obviously we know Joe is one of the big pieces to our team, but at the same time I have full faith in every single player on this team,” Dike said. “I knew someone was going to step up. Cabrel definitely stepped up and did really well.”
Crofts said: “It’s phenomenal, the way he came in, the way he handled it. He’s not been getting game time, but for him to come into this game and really step up like that was amazing for the team. We really needed him tonight.”
As a freshman in 2018, Happi Kamseu tied for the team leads with five goals. But he’s been slowed by injuries this fall and appeared in only 11 regular-season games.
Happi Kamseu, who’s from Zimbabwe, played 70 minutes against Wake.
“The whole season has been up and down for me, being injured, being reinjured,” Happi Kamseu said. “It’s just been tough, but the coaches have been very good at keeping me positive, telling me I can do this, keeping my motivation up, so that’s been great. And then today just taught me that it’s time to step up, and I had to.
“Fitness-wise, coming in and playing in the midfield after not having played a game in so long, it was tough, but the motivation and the encouragement from my teammates really kept me pushing on to the end.”
Gelnovatch said Happi Kamseu “was fantastic in the game, and [so was] Daniel Steedman, who played Joe’s role. That was a little bit different. He did tremendously, and [junior Irakoze Donasiyano] had to play a little bit of a different role because of that. So those three in the middle were absolutely fantastic.”
The Cavaliers, who are ranked No. 1 nationally in the NCAA’s latest RPI, are looking forward to what they hope will be the first of two postseason trips to Cary. They’re also thrilled to know they’re not through at Klöckner for the year.
“It’s good to be home,” Gelnovatch said.