Sometimes in sports, the most desperate teams are the most dangerous. A day before head coach Dave Giffard and his players boarded the team bus on Friday, Oct. 10 for a road game against a 1-9 University of Massachusetts team, he said he felt the matchup could produce some problems for his 4-7-1 soccer team currently vying for a postseason berth.
Days before, Giffard sat in his office surrounded by memorabilia and coaching accolades that span his allustrious career. Coach took a moment to access his thoughts about traveling to Massachusetts for an important contest.
“One of the tricky parts about our league is the venues,” Giffard said. “The venues are very interesting, is probably a good word to use.”
Giffard said the UMass field is an old-school concrete field turf that spans about 50 yards wide, 20 yards more than the NCAA rules allow. But because the fields are old, they are grandfathered in. The concern of playing on a long field with poor grass was evident with Giffard when he discussed the game plan for the Oct. 11 matchup.
“The team is very difficult to play at home, and they’re not as successful away from home,” Giffard said.
Last year, Giffard’s team made easy work of UMass, en route to a 4-0 victory at Sports Backer Stadium. However, the team found themselves in a back-and-forth battle that would need extra time in hopes of declaring a winner this season.
“For whatever reason, you have teams that don’t get off to the non-conference start that they would like, so they’re basically playing for those eight games,” Giffard said.
Both teams dealt with their fair share of setbacks this season. VCU’s non-conference schedule has turned the team into one of those conference teams Giffard mentioned that are playing the final game for survival. For UMass, the passing of head coach Sam Cook before the start of the preseason delivered a severe blow the team reasonably hasn’t quite recovered from. But on Saturday, both teams focused on one thing, obtaining three points from the other in hopes of a conference tournament bid down the road.
“When you play three games in four days, everyone has a puncher’s chance,” Giffard said about teams invited to the Atlantic-10 conference championships.
The goal was clear: be professional, win the game, get the points and come home.
U.Mass would be the first to score, as a Matt Keys goal in the 17th minute put the Minutemen up 1-0. VCU would respond in the 59th minute with a Jose Manel goal to push the game even at one apiece. For VCU, a red card delivered in a Wednesday, Oct. 8 loss to University of Maryland caused the team senior goalkeeper Garrett Cyprus for the remainder of that game as well as the game against the Minutemen.
Freshman goalkeeper Pierre Gardan played in relief of Cyprus only giving up the goal in the game’s first 20 minutes. From then on, Gardan guarded the net exceptionally, pushing the game to extra time. Eventually the game was called, leaving both teams who were desperate for three points and a win unfulfilled.
With six games remaining in the regular season, don’t count Giffard’s team out just yet. Next up for the Rams are a pair of home games at Sports Backer Stadium Friday, Oct. 17 versus Fordham University and Sunday, Oct. 19 against LaSalle University.