(Analysis/Opinion) Toughness keys breakthrough win for men’s soccer

Sophomore Nate Shiffman has started all 10 games this season and is one of eight underclassmen in a starting role.

Quinn Casteel
Assistant Sports Editor
ANALYSIS/OPINION
Commonwealth Times’ Sports Twitter

Jason Johnson kept his composure and helped spark the Ram offense Saturday night.

Since coming out of the gates and winning its first five matches and climbing as high as 16th in the national rankings, the VCU men’s soccer team has been on a downward spiral.

Coming into Saturday night’s match against George Mason, they were simply looking for answers.

Thanks to Yoram Mwila’s opportunistic goal in the 72nd minute, VCU found all the answers it needed.

In what may have been the most physical match of the season, the Rams had to battle until the closing seconds in order to preserve a 1-0 lead and snap a four-game losing streak.

Following protocol, head coach Dave Giffard downplayed the importance of the victory after the game, but Mwila’s emotional celebration following his game-winning goal said everything we need to know.

Mwila sent a hot-roller into the bottom left corner of the net and promptly sprinted toward the stands, saluting the 805 VCU fans in attendance as he made his way down the sideline.

“I thought Mwila worked really hard tonight,” Giffard said. “He did a lot of good things on both sides of the ball and ended up making the play that got the win for us.”

Mwila’s goal, and the emotions he showed afterward, represent what this VCU team is all about when they are playing well. Mwila and Jason Johnson are the sparkplugs, and when they are playing with swagger, the Rams offense is virtually unstoppable. They simply have too much speed and too much talent to be contained by any back four.

Mwila netted the match’s only goal on his only shot on goal, while Johnson racked up six shots despite being bracketed by defenders all night long. On several occasions, he was thrown to the ground by Mason defenders without drawing a call.

Johnson didn’t lose his cool, but he didn’t back down either.

Instead, he got up each time and gave the defender a little push back that seemed to say, “I’ll be here all night.”

It is that type of mental and physical toughness that Giffard has been stressing all week in practice, and Saturday night it showed.

“We were pretty tough on the guys, and they needed it.” Giffard said. “They knew they needed it. You can’t coach talent, but you can coach guys to be a little tougher and to work a little harder. You can put them in an environment where they’re accustomed to working under great fatigue and to understand what it takes to win at a high level.”

It has been clear all season that VCU has the talent to compete with anyone, but Saturday’s match showed that it has the toughness as well.

As the weather gets colder and bodies start to wear down, gritty, physical soccer will be the brand that is needed to win games.

The victory over Mason gives VCU something to build on and also puts them on the board in the CAA as it improves to 1-1 in conference play.

“It was definitely good to get back and get a result,” Mwila said. “But at the same time, we just keep believing and keep doing what we do.”

 

Photos by Chris Conway

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