VCU Rams Capture Comeback Win
By Ryan Lazo, sports editor
Oct 7, 2013, 08:20
Ryan Lazo/Hopewell News/News-Patriot
RICHMOND — Only 17 minutes remained for Virginia Commonwealth University’s soccer team to change another chapter being written in what is quickly becoming the story of their season: a lack of scoring goals and early mistakes leading to losses.
Facing a non-conference scheduled match with No. 22 Saint Louis, also the preseason Atlantic 10 Conference favorite, the Rams rushed forward with attacking numbers from the opening whistle. It was a premeditated plan due to the team’s inability to score multiple goals in a game — they did so just once upon entering the contest — and it has resulted in a three-game skid.
And like clockwork, a mistake at the 36’ minute by VCU goalie Andrew Wells seemed to seal the Rams’ fate once again. Seeing an unmarked Saint Louis (6-3-0) attacker, Wells came out to defend toward the end of the 18-yard box, saving successive shots before David Graydon blasted one off of the Rams’ Assane Keita into net for the 1-0 lead.
Yet, this Rams squad had been tested before and they responded in the final stages of regulation, tallying twice to capture a come-from-behind 2-1 victory at Sports Backers Stadium.
“Sometimes you are going to get punched in the mouth and we’ve been there before,” Rams coach Dave Giffard said after his team’s stirring win. “I think that really helped us today, especially after we went down a goal.”
Besides, being snake-bitten has plagued VCU (4-4-1) throughout the season, whether it’s shots going off the post like against Coastal Carolina or other teams capitalizing on mistakes like UAB did on opening night. These experiences gave the Rams’ players something to lean on, knowing they have the ability to change the course of the game.
And while VCU still struggled in the early parts of the second half, the unseasonably warm weather playing at least a part, they seemed to gain life in the final 25 minutes.
“We knew that they were good team and the weather was going to be hard,” Jose Manel said of the game. “We knew they were giving everything to beat us, but we kept working really hard and really gave all our energy to win.”
It showed on the field.
The previously sluggish Rams pushed the ball up the field, creating chances just outside of the box by working either flank. It was in the 74’ minute where it became clear VCU began inching closer and closer to an equalizing goal.
Off a corner-kick, one of their eight in the match, Juan Solano fired an in-swinging cross which just eluded the top of Devon Fisher’s head inside the six-yard box. But that would not be the end.
The Rams’ quickly recovered possession and hurried up the field before Nate Shiffman deftly slid a right-footed pass to a charging Isaac Owusu for a blast near-post that was shoved out of bounds by an alert Saint Louis goalie Nick Shackelford.
Noticing the Billiken’s defense began keying on the right flank, Shiffman worked on the left, charging toward net before he was fouled about 35 yards away from goal, resulting in a free-kick. The senior’s cross never put a scare into the defense as they quickly headed it away, but Shiffman recovered, span around and worked toward the middle of the pitch before firing a swinging cross toward far post.
The ball found the head of racing Garrett Harvey and it blasted itself into the left corner of the net for the equalizer, prompting celebrations in the corner by the VCU bench.
“Nate, this year, has been a very important player for us,” Giffard said. “He’s a fourth-year senior ... he’s been a guy who’s been in the trenches, been in the battles and he knows what these games mean. I thought he continued to move it quicker and got the energy of our team up.”
And the goal in the 73’ minute seemed to be just the jump-start the Rams needed to grab a victory from the Billiken’s hands.
Ryan Lazo/Hopewell News/News-Patriot
Yet, the deciding goal did not occur from a quick offensive but an exemplary defensive play inside the box as Kharlton Belmar laid himself out on the turf to block a blast by Kingsley Bryce of Saint Louis. The ball deflected off his thigh and into the waiting feet of Fisher who quickly sidestepped and turned up field, leaving Saint Louis defenders in his wake.
Manel saw Fisher did not have an angle and quickly joined the attack where Fisher slid a pass to his left toward Manel in the box. The Barcelona native quickly was surrounded by two Billikens’ defenders before crossing to his right and firing a bending ball into the right corner of net for the 84’ minute winner.
“It was a counter-attack and we knew there were only 10 minutes left so we had to give everything in those moments,” Manel explained. “I got the ball from (Fisher) and I felt like I had to score for my team, for all the work they did.”
And following nine of a 10-game non-conference schedule featuring four ranked teams, VCU is battle-tested and ready for the grind of the A-10 slate. They aimed to put the work in to prepare themselves against the best to better their effort and Giffard is pleased with what they showed.
“What this group has done and what we have challenged them to do is just continue to work and get better every week,” Giffard said.
While many teams would have slumped their heads in the midst of a skid and trailing in another, Giffard’s Rams battled, showing the heart and character which could take them far.