The VCU men’s soccer season came to a disappointing close in the first round of the NCAA Tournament as the Rams fell 3-0 to the Naval Academy (16-3-2) at Sports Backers Stadium on Thursday, Nov. 21.
Despite outshooting the Midshipmen 17-16 and registering two shots on goal in the first ten minutes, the Rams ultimately fell victim to an eight-minute second-half stretch during which Navy converted all three of its goals.
After the game, VCU head coach Dave Giffard said he thought his team played a better match than the final score indicated.
“I thought there was a 10-15 minute period in the second half where they got on the end of all the loose balls,” Giffard said. “They kind of willed their way into an opportunity and got the ball and a goal and, to be fair, got two more the same way.”
Navy senior midfielder Martin Sanchez capitalized on an open shot from the top of the box in the 68th minute of regulation to break a scoreless tie and put the Midshipmen in prime position for the road victory.
“We knew we could attack them,” Sanchez said. “I got the ball with a fortunate touch and I took a strike and luckily it went in.”
Three minutes later, Navy doubled its lead after VCU redshirt senior goalkeeper Andrew Wells produced a rebound opportunity, which Midshipmen junior midfielder Geoff Fries converted in the 71st minute, silencing a crowd of nearly 1,000 at Sports Backers Stadium.
Fewer than five minutes later, Fries chipped a ball over Wells to extend the Navy lead to three and effectively end VCU’s 2013 campaign.
“We knew if we were pressing them all night they would falter sooner or later so we kept pressing,” Fries said. “(After a bad touch) I was able to jump on it and finish.”
Even with the advantage in total shots, VCU was only able to register four shots on goal to Navy’s eight. The Midshipmen, who have now won 15 consecutive games, have not surrendered a goal in four consecutive contests.
Navy is coming off its first Patriot League title this season, but head coach Dave Brandt had high praise for the Rams following the victory.
“VCU is, of course, very athletic and very technical,” Brandt said. “So you put two teams like that together and you’re going to have an exciting game. I think defensively, VCU is absolutely a handful, so to be disciplined and win our match ups was very important.”
For Giffard, it was tough not to express pride in a VCU team that played the nation’s toughest schedule in 2013.
“This team specifically has grown significantly,” Giffard said. “To win away at Akron, to win away at Maryland, to beat the reigning NCAA champion, to beat Saint Louis, there are programs that can go 50 years without those four results that we achieved in a month and a half period. Tonight the better team won and Navy deserved to win. We will be back.”
Five Rams that won’t be back are senior defenders Garrett Harvey and Gene Daniels, midfielders Romena Bowie and Nate Shiffman, as well as the team’s starting goalkeeper Andrew Wells. Though Giffard loses several starters to graduation, there is plenty of returning talent to be excited about.
VCU’s leading goal scorer Kharlton Belmar will be back for his senior year in 2014, in addition to key sophomore defender Dennis Castillo and sophomore midfielder Devon Fisher.
The Midshipmen played Wake Forest University in the second round of the NCAA Tournament on Sunday, Nov. 24, but a result was not final as of press time. The Rams finished the season with a 11-8-2 record.