It was a near perfect outcome for the VCU men’s soccer team, almost pulling off a miraculous Atlantic 10 Tournament Championship with all the odds against them — almost.
For VCU, it was a season of ups and downs. At times they shined, going unbeaten for five-straight games to open conference play, and other times they struggled, starting the season with a string of five losses and limping towards the end of their conference schedule with a three-game losing streak.
And yet, the Rams got hot at the right time and their roller-coaster year led them on a “Cinderella” run through last weekend’s A-10 tournament. Despite being the eighth and lowest-seed, VCU fought its way into a championship-bout against the second-seeded Dayton University, owners of the best overall record in the conference.
In its first game, VCU burst onto the tournament scene, beating top-seeded George Washington University in a 4-0 upset on Nov. 19. The Rams offense was in rare form, with sophomore Rafael Andrade Santos striking first in the 34th minute, followed quickly by another goal from fellow sophomore Jorge Herranz in the 36th minute.
In the second half VCU kept pouring it on, as sophomore Luc Fatton added a third goal in the 85th minute. Just 35 seconds later, Herranz completed the rout with his second goal of the game in the 86th minute.
While VCU’s offense played the biggest role in the first victory, its defense dominated the second game, as the Rams held on to beat Fordham University 1-0 the next day. The highlight of the defensive effort, sophomore goalkeeper Pierre Gardan, had two saves on route to his eighth shutout of the season and his second consecutive clean sheet of the tournament.
Though VCU’s offense struggled to hit pay-dirt against Fordham, the offense kept the pressure on with six of its 11 shots on goal. Ultimately, Santos again found the back of the net in the 45th minute with a strike from the top of the box.
The red-hot Rams found themselves in the A-10 Championship game, squaring off against the University of Dayton. Coming into the game, VCU looked to repeat the result of the team’s only matchup this year, a 3-2 OT win in the final game of the regular season against the Flyers.
Dayton struck again early in the second half, finding the back of the net on a free kick from 30 yards out in the 60th minute, pushing its lead to 2-0. The Rams battled back, cutting the deficit in half as junior Dakota Barnathan headed home a corner kick in the 72nd minute.
Ultimately the comeback would prove short-lived, as Dayton’s offense proved too much for the Rams, tacking on two more goals in the 72nd and 79th minutes for a 4-1 advantage.
“After we spotted them the second goal on a restart, I was still confident that we would get back in it, and we did so to go 2-1, but give Dayton credit, they answered right back to make it 3 and then we had a guy sent off,” said Head Coach Dave Giffard.
Although we kept fighting until the end, that was a tough hill to climb.”
The Flyers poured on the attempts, ultimately finishing with 22 shots, more than double the Rams’ nine. Despite Dayton’s four goals, Gardan had the game of his young career in goal, with a career-high six saves.
On the backs of strong performances by Gardan, Santos and Herranz, the future seems bright for VCU men’s soccer. For their efforts, Gardan and Herranz, along with defenders senior Dennis Castillo and sophomore RJ Roberts, were named to the All-Atlantic 10 Tournament Team.
“I’m proud of this very young and inexperienced group for getting better each week and for believing in each other and playing for the shirt down the stretch,” Giffard said.
We will be back.”
Article by: CJ Paschall, Contributing Writer
Graphic Designer, Anya Shcherbakova
anya is a graphic designer living and working in richmond, va. anya graduates in december. she likes to use good design to make happier and healthier cities and believes it will all be o—k. // Facebook | Portfolio