Men’s soccer finds just enough toughness to overcome James Madison

Sophomore striker Jason Johnson (11) celebrates his goal with strike partner, senior Yoram Mwila (9)

Jim Swing
Sports Editor
Commonwealth Times Sports’ Twitter

Sophomore striker Jason Johnson (11) celebrates his goal with strike partner, senior Yoram Mwila (9). Photo by Chris Conway.

Dave Giffard stepped into the press box at Sports Backers Stadium sweating bullets down the front of his face.

Maybe it was the humidity, or maybe it was his coaching instinct setting in from the potency of the VCU men’s soccer team’s 2-1, grind-it-out victory over James Madison Wednesday night.

“It was a good night,” he said. “I didn’t think our performance was great, but it’s always nice to get results and get what you need. JMU is a good team; they’ve been on a great roll here to start off the season so that added a little bit of extra reward to it.”

And for Nate Shiffman, the reward was plentiful.

The sophomore midfielder took a pass from Jason Johnson and deflected it off of JMU’s center back before trickling past the goalie to give VCU a one-goal advantage in the 64th minute.

“It felt great,” Shiffman said. “It’s my first goal … it’s a good feeling.”

Just nine minutes later, JMU would threaten.

VCU goalie Josh Pantazelos made a fingertip save on a shot from Christian McLaughlin from the middle, which toyed in front of the net before Juan Monge Solano dove in and swept it out of play.

From there, the Rams searched for a bit of insurance, and thanks to Johnson, they got it.

Johnson cleaned up a Joseph Haboush shot that clanked off the crossbar with a header that cleared past the netminder to give VCU a two-goal cushion.

Two minutes later, with just over 11 minutes remaining, the goal proved crucial.

JMU’s Patrick Innes shot a rocket from the top of the box that sailed past Pantazelos to cut the VCU lead to one.

With 33 seconds remaining and time winding down, McLaughlin took a dangerous shot from the left side of the box, but Pantazelos was there for the save as he had been nearly all night.

For VCU, the win was all about being in the right place and having just enough toughness and scrap to pull out a win.

“We had guys in certain spots,” Giffard said. “Especially in the back half of the team, that I think had just enough kind of toughness and fight to them and to kind of grind through on a night that wasn’t our best night.” VCU was forced to combat JMU’s aggressive style of play that accumulated 10 penalties on the night.

“I thought it was a bit of a dogfight; we fought hard, they fought hard – we just put away more chances than them.” Shiffman said.

Aggressiveness has been the force to overcome for the Rams (8-5, 3-2) as of late, and now their resolve has them on a surge throughout conference play.

“I thought we pretty much countered their aggressiveness.” Shiffman said. “It was a really big win for us so we’ve just got to keep it going, and hopefully we can keep the momentum going.”

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