Facing tough opponents, men’s soccer hits stride

Assane Keita and the VCU men’s soccer team has come a long way since its 4-0 loss to the University of Alabama at Birmingham in the season opener.

Brandon Ramon
Contributing Writer

The 19th-ranked VCU men’s soccer team will host Coastal Carolina this coming weekend, seeking a third consecutive victory.

After struggling out of the gate, the Rams made an impressive turnaround in their second week of play.

Facing three of the nation’s top-15 teams, Dave Giffard’s group  managed a 1-1 draw against No. 9 New Mexico at home on Sept. 6, pulled out a 3-2 victory at No. 13 Maryland on Sept. 8. and narrowly edged No. 7 Akron 1-0 in Ohio on Sept. 13.

Friday’s contest against New Mexico was a physical battle. The Lobos, a physically larger team than VCU, struck first on a James Rogers shot in the 43rd minute, giving New Mexico a 1-0 advantage heading into halftime.

Optimism was fading, but the Rams didn’t lose hope.

VCU summoned a  newfound intensity in the second half and their physical play seemingly began to rattle New Mexico.

Controlling the tempo with astute defense, junior Assane Keita helped the Rams stick around long enough before sophomore Isaac Owusu placed a perfect ball over the head of Lobos goalkeeper Michael Lisch with enough room for sophomore Devon Fisher to knock in the game-tying goal in the 56th minute.

From there, VCU’s defense would bend but not break. The smaller Rams team stood their ground for the remainder of regulation and took the ninth-ranked team into extra time.

After two scoreless 10-minute overtime periods, the game resulted in a 1-1 draw. The Lobos outshot the rams by a final total of 21-5.

Head coach Dave Giffard spoke highly of his team’s gutsy performance after the game, attributing their success to hard work.

“I was proud of the guys’ effort tonight against a very good New Mexico team,” Giffard said. “We had a very good week of training and we felt much more prepared to play tonight than we did last weekend. Now we’ll need to turn it around for another tough game at Maryland on Sunday.”

That’s exactly what the Rams did when they visited College Park on Sept. 8.

Again, the VCU squad found itself down 1-0 at halftime. But a second Terrapins goal in the 70th minute didn’t phase the Rams.

Instead, a penalty kick by junior Jose Manel in the 78th minute started an exciting rally that ultimately gave VCU its first win of the season.

One minute after his goal, Manel assisted junior Kharlton Belmar on a 10-yard score to tie the game up at 2-2. The rally continued when Manel set up Devon Fisher with three minutes remaining in regulation to put the Rams up 3-2 and secure the win.

After totaling one goal in their previous two contests, VCU’s offensive explosion tallied three goals in less than 10 minutes and silenced the University of Maryland crowd to finish the weekend on a positive note.

Most recently, the Rams traveled to Ohio to take on the No. 7 Akron Zips. Arguably its toughest opponent thus far, VCU stepped up to the competition and used a Dennis Castillo header in the 74th minute to down the Zips by a score of 1-0 and improve the Rams’ record to 2-1-1.

The Rams also faced Niagara on Sunday, Sept. 15; however, the game finished after production time.

Since the disappointing home opener against University of Alabama at Birmingham, the Rams have shown signs of improvement. Slight adjustments on defense coupled with the increased presence of preseason All-American Romena Bowie has VCU playing at the level they expected to begin the year.

If its recent success is any sort of indication, look for VCU to make its way toward the top of the conference before season’s end.

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