The men’s soccer team will not be advancing to the quarterfinals of the NCAA tournament after a 3-2 loss in the Round of 32 against Butler University Sunday night.
Neutral fans would have enjoyed the back and forth affair, but the VCU faithful will likely rue the string of chances the team missed, which could have changed the game’s outcome. The Rams will also regret a 6-minute span in second-half in which Butler scored all of its goals. VCU was not blameless in the barrage of Butler goals, as the Bulldogs capitalized on defensive lapses in concentration to find the back of the net.
“When you get to the round of 32, every team is going to be difficult,” said VCU Coach Dave Giffard in the post-game press conference. “But when you concede three goals in the NCAA tournament, you’re probably not going to win, unfortunately we conceded three goals.”
The Rams started the scoring off when senior forward Luc Fatton’s 25th-minute strike from more than 35 yards out caught Butler goalkeeper Eric Dick out of his goal. The screamer from midfield was one of few exceptional moments in a first half hallmarked by crisp possession and organized defense for both teams, but not many chances on goal.
The first half had three shots on goal – all of which were Butler’s and all were saved by VCU’s freshman goalkeeper, Mario Sequeira. The Rams had the Costa Rican to thank for it being scoreless at the half, particularly when he somehow saved a close-range shot by a Butler forward that appeared destined for the back of the net in the 30th minute.
It wasn’t until more than 20 minutes into the game the Rams began finding their feet on offense as forwards began finding pockets of space in behinds for their runs. Fatton’s long-distance goal came shortly thereafter.
Butler came alive minutes into the second half when the Bulldogs scored three goals in less than five minutes.
Sophomore defender Alex Lehtinen started things off for the Bulldogs when he put the ball away in the 54th minute for Butler, with the assist coming from junior defender Joe Moulden.
Three minutes later, sophomore midfielder Lewis Suddock calmly tucked away his shot after a through ball from sophomore midfielder Isaac Galliford. Butler was in the driver’s seat for the first time in the game.
The Rams barely had time to recover when sophomore forward Brandon Guhl’s shot from a deflected cross hit the underside of the crossbar and went in Sequeira’s goal just seconds after the previous Butler goal.
An apparently shaken VCU team struggled to string together passes in the ensuing moments, but defender Ulrik Edvarsen was able to find the back of the net when he headed home a deep free kick by midfielder Fortia Munts.
Then the chances started coming for VCU.
First, France Amorosino found himself in a one-on-one with the Butler keeper, but the off-balance midfielder scuffed the shot straight into Dick’s arms with 19 minutes to play in the half.
Then, Amorosino found himself in close-range again, but his deflected shot — which looked destined for goal — was kick-saved by Dick as it nearly crossed the line.
Amorosino would have wanted the next chance back. After being put through on goal by Munts with just the keeper to beat, the midfielder was perhaps a little too unselfish as he tried to find senior forward Luc Fatton across the goal. The pass was well read by a Bulldogs defender.
Butler had their own fair share of missed chances. With nine minutes to play, forward Brandon Guhl put a shot just wide after a cross found him in VCU’s box with space to shoot. Minutes later, Suddick put another shot just wide for the Bulldogs after a through ball by Galliford put him in position to score.
The Rams had their best chances to score with less than three minutes left, but luck was clearly not on their side on the night. A shot by Edvarsen from yards out was blocked and fell to the feet of another VCU player, whose effort was also blocked at the goal line, that shot fell to Munts, who put it just over the crossbar.
“I was proud of the players, not just this evening but over the course of the season,” Giffard said in the post-game, “especially our senior class. Those guys have fought some battles over the last four years.”
The stars may not have aligned in the Rams’ first NCAA tournament in four years, but the team will be back, Giffard said. The coach said the team is already focused on next season.
“The preseason starts tomorrow,” Giffard said.
Fadel Allassan, Managing Editor at Large