VCU Is Struggling With Attention
By Ryan Lazo, Sports Editor
Sep 24, 2013, 20:41
Ryan Lazo/Hopewell News/News-Patriot
RICHMOND — Virginia Commonwealth University’s men’s soccer team entered the 2013 season with unmatched preseason accolades and a gaudy No. 24 ranked squad in the polls. Then, they opened the season with a 4-0 loss to UAB and everything seemed to cave in on them.
The young team with little experience in receiving national attention struggled to keep an even-keel, leaving them vulnerable. But slowly and surely this talented Rams’ squad righted itself once again, drawing with No. 9 ranked New Mexico, and defeating both No. 13 ranked Maryland and No. 7 ranked Akron in successive matches.
The victories, coupled with a 1-0 win over Niagara, rocketed VCU from unranked to No. 8 in the polls heading into Saturday’s match against Coastal Carolina.
And perhaps not surprisingly, the team struggled once again with the spotlight glaring on them.
The Rams surrendered a first minute tally after nervy play in the back end allowed an easy tap-in goal for the Chanticleers’ Ricky Garbanzo, putting the Rams on the defensive while Coastal Carolina put the game into cruise control. While VCU was able to turn the tide and become the aggressors, they never could find the net over the final 89 minutes of play, ending their four-match unbeaten streak with a 1-0 loss.
“Each of the games we scheduled this year brings with it a different set of challenges. All of these teams are really good at what they do,” Rams’ (3-2-1) head coach Dave Gifford said after the loss. “This was the first time we saw a team that has a lot of really good players … and you don’t know what it’s going to be, but you know they are going to prepare and adapt to play against you.”
And that’s what happened throughout the match on Saturday night.
Coastal Carolina took advantage of a Rams’ back line which was on its heels early in the game. The Chanticleers (5-2-0) saw their first shot was deflected off a sprawling Rams’ goalkeeper Andrew Wells but they had No. 7 lurking just behind to tap it in.
The goal allowed the Chanticleers to take a more defensive shape, allowing VCU to have all the possession they could have wanted, but also made it more difficult to break down the defense.
Ryan Lazo/Hopewell News/News-Patriot
“We started out flat and we weren’t really ready for the pace of the game yet,” Rams’ captain Nate Shiffman said after the loss. “They pinched us early and we weren’t able to get the goal to recover.”
In truth, the Rams did look to be much the better side in the final 80 minutes or so after withstanding the initial charge of the Chanticleers. A first-half which saw the two teams evened up at five shots each, became a landslide in the second.
VCU pummelled the net and pressured the Chanticleers backline consistently, recording eight total shots including four on net which were saved by Coastal Carolina’s goalkeeper Devin Cook. But perhaps the Rams’ best chance for an equalizer came in the final minute off a set-piece near the 50-yard line.
Juan Solano fired an in-swinging ball toward the 18-yard box and Rams’ defender Dennis Castillo rose above the pile up and put a blistering headed effort on frame where it was corralled by a diving Cook, ending VCU’s chance of picking up a draw.
“I thought we had a lot of success on the right side with everyone we put out there,” Giffard said. “And in the end we had three really good chances to score, we didn’t score one. They had two really good chances to score and they scored one. I mean, that’s soccer against other good teams.”
But these are the reasons Giffard arranged the schedule to include such high-level opponents.
He aimed to test his team throughout the non-conference slate to prepare them for the rigorous Atlantic 10 Conference schedule. The reality is VCU is filled with plenty of talented players and a squad of their caliber will win 40 percent of the time, draw 40 percent of the time and lose 20 percent.
It’s the law of averages. Shiffman knows this reality and has relished the opportunity to test himself and his team against some of the other top squads in the nation.
“There’s nothing to lose,” he explained. “You learn what you can get better at. We’re going to get better and hopefully continue to get good results.”
With a talented squad surrounding him, the results are sure to come for the Rams. But most important to the season is how he and his teammates deal with the accolades and not let it affect their preparation for each game.