American University goalkeeper Bill Ruvo was nearly speechless Wednesday after learning of Clemson University's impressive soccer statistics.
He heard that the fifth-ranked Tigers have scored 67 goals and allowed only 11 while gliding to a 141-1 record. He heard freshman forward Nnamdi Nwokocha, the most valuable player in the Atlantic Coast Conference, has 24 goals. He heard Clemson also has a rack of lopsided victories, including a 14-0 romp over Belmont Abbey at home to open the season.
He also heard Belmont Abbey did not return for the second half.
"Oh, my God," Ruvo whispered in muffled astonishment.
Then he tried to rationalize the task he and his teammates with face when the Eagles play at Clemson Sunday in a 2 p.m. NCAA soccer semifinal.
"Well, I know Virginia lost to them only 2-0 and we beat Virginia (1-0) in not one of our better performances," Ruvo said. "I think with a good effort we'll be close to them.
"No.It won't be high-scoring. Maybe 1-0 or 2-1. Hopefully us."
Ruvo obviously must have a hand or two in the situation if American is to tame the Tiger attack. Thus far the 6-foot-2, 205-pound junior has been a surprising success in the nets, posting a 12-0-2 record and allowing just seven goals since becoming a starter early in the season.
With the help of a solid fullback corps, Ruvo has posted a school-record nine shutouts -- the last six in a string in which American captured the Capital Collegiate, East Coast Conference and South Atlantic Region title. American, unbeaten now in 16 straight games -- also a school mark -- carries a 14-2-4 record, a No. 15 national ranking into the semifinal match.
Ruvo's performances could hardly have been expected in August, especially when the Burlington County (N.J.) College transfer fractured his ankle the second day of practice while running a cross country course. He was mostly recovered within three weeks, but by then AU Coach Pete Mehlert had decided that another junior, Eric Berezin, would be the starting keeper.
"It was a painful decision for me, going with Berezin or Ruvo," said Mehlert. "But Eric had an outstanding indoor and spring season and he kept it up, so it was only fair to start him until he played himself out of it. But he never did."
Berezin, however, was lost for the season when he fractured his wrist against Temple Oct. 13 and Ruvo, who had been moved into a rotation with Berezin, quickly settled into a permanent starting role.
"Eric has played pretty good at the beginning," Ruvo recalled. "I guess the bad luck on his part was a break for me.
"Knowing I'll start every game has relieved a certain pressure," said Ruvo, who transfered to AU with Burlington teammate Terry Schrider, a junior college All-American back. "Now I can prepare directly for something I need to know about the other team's style and not have to worry about winning out my position."
Ruvo is confident he can do the job against Clemson. He has been in the pressure cooker before. In two years at Burlington his team posted records of 15-2-3 and 13-2-1. In 1977 the Panthers advanced to the national junior collee quarterfinals; in 1978 they were eliminated in six overtimes in the regional semifinals. Ruvo also set the Burlington record for shutouts last year with nine.
This season Ruvo, who was ECC player of the week Oct. 29., has been aided immensely by backs Scott Turner, Charlie Davis, Tom Tague, Alex Kozlov and reserves Keith Tabatznik and Schrider. The AU defense has limited its opponents to an average of five shots per game, making the goalie's job that much easier.
The Eagles' closest call during their undefeated streak came Nov. 14 in a rematch with Temple for the ECC East Section title. The game went into four overtimes before American came out ahead on penalty kicks. Ruvo stopped two of Temple's three penalty shots to help clinch the win.
Turner, who missed last year's 4-0 Southern Region semifinal loss to Clemson with a knee injury, is coming off a sprained ankle and Kozlov is battling mononucleosis. Both will be needed to keep Clemson's Nwockocha football placekicker Obed Ariri (13 goals) and Mo Tinsley (11) from launching too many bullets in Ruvo's direction.
"Personally, I like the pressure," Ruvo said. "A game like this is so important you naturally get up for it. This will be my time to make or break the team. I haven't had a whole lot of opportunities to do that his season."