Less than a month after concluding its most trying regular season in nearly two decades, the Virginia men's soccer team stands just one victory from a return to the final four.
The Cavaliers defeated 17th-ranked Brown, 3-1, today despite an injury to leading scorer Ryan Trout, who left with a pulled groin muscle. With the victory, Virginia advanced to the quarterfinals against No. 4 UCLA, which beat Saint Louis, 2-0, today. If the unranked Cavaliers (14-8-1) beat the Bruins (18-2) when they meet here next weekend, they will make their ninth appearance in the tournament semifinals.
"I don't think it's a turnaround; it's more a straightening out," Virginia Coach George Gelnovatch said. "This is probably the toughest schedule we've ever played. It's okay to lose some games along the way, as long as you win some big games. But most of all, you want to get better."
How much the Cavaliers have improved will be determined against UCLA, which beat them 2-0 on Oct. 31. After finishing last in the Atlantic Coast Conference regular season standings and dropping out of the Soccer America poll in midseason for the first time since 1983, they stormed to the ACC tournament final before losing to Duke in triple overtime. They then squeaked past Princeton, 2-1, also in triple overtime, in the NCAA tournament's first round last weekend.
Today Virginia did not let the Bears (13-5) get that close. Freshman forward Ryan Gibbs set the tone by converting a long pass from midfielder Kenny Arena just 1 minute 38 seconds into the match. Midfielder Kyle Martino, the ACC rookie of the year, added the second goal 20 minutes later by dribbling around defender John Devine and scoring from 18 yards.
Gibbs and sophomore forward Sheldon Barnes wrought havoc on the Bears' defense in the first half with the aid of Martino and the rest of the midfield. Brown, which yielded just 1.21 goals per game, concentrated its man-markers on the Virginia midfield rather than its forwards.
By doing so, the Bears left the heart of the defense exposed whenever the Virginia midfielders could escape their defenders and send outlet passes. Barnes and Gibbs, who are fast and big with good ball skills, often had just one player to beat and created several quality chances.
"It's more how physical [Barnes and Gibbs] are than their speed," Brown Coach Mike Noonan said. "It's how they use their bodies combined with their speed."
The Cavaliers' third goal came in the 40th minute after Gibbs took a long pass and took a hard shot that the Bears defense failed to clear. Barnes pounced on a loose ball and knocked it in from four yards.