Last season was fantastic for the VCU men’s soccer team, as the Rams advanced all the way to the Atlantic 10 championship match, earned an at-large bid in the NCAA Tournament and saw star forward Jason Johnson drafted 13th overall in the MLS Draft.
The Rams, who also established themselves as a top 25 squad for the better part of last season, will put their impressive resume on the line in 2013 with one of the most challenging schedules in college soccer, as they face five of the top 11 teams from a year ago.
“If we are going to have the realistic goal of competing for the national championship year in and year out, then we have to play against the best teams and in the most challenging environments that we can find,” VCU head coach Dave Giffard said. “It has taken us a few years to get to the point where many of the top teams will put us on the schedule, both home and away, so I think there is some respect for what we are building here at VCU.”
Four of the Rams’ five most challenging matches will take place in September.
VCU will face New Mexico, who finished last season ranked No. 10, on Friday, Sept. 6 at Sports Backers Stadium. Just two days later they will travel to College Park to take on Maryland, the No. 3 team in the 2012 final rankings.
On Sept. 13, the Rams play on the road against Akron, head coach Dave Giffard’s former team, which was also the No. 7-ranked team at the end of last year. VCU continues a difficult month of September with a home match against Coastal Carolina, last season’s 11th-ranked team, on Sept. 21.
Defending national champion Indiana will visit Richmond on Oct. 18, rounding out VCU’s rigorous list of top 11 opponents. However, the rest of the Rams’ schedule is no walk in the park either.
“As a team you want to improve as the year goes along and build yourself towards being able to win five or six consecutive games against other top programs,” Giffard said. “The only way you can hope to accomplish that goal is if you are battle tested.”
“It has taken us the first three years to get into a position where I felt like we could realistically take on that challenge,” he continued. “This schedule will certainly allow us to do that.”
In addition to the five teams already mentioned, VCU will play two more top 25 teams from a year ago on top of a road-heavy conference slate. A road match against ACC contender Wake Forest, last season’s No. 22 team, will complete the Rams’ challenging September schedule.
VCU’s seventh and final ranked opponent will be A-10 foe Saint Louis on Oct. 6 at Sports Backers Stadium. The rest of the conference fixture includes home matches against Massachusetts, Rhode Island, La Salle and Fordham, and road tests against St. Joseph’s, St. Bonaventure, Duquesne and A-10 newcomer George Mason.