Virginia men's soccer is set to begin its defense of their national crown on Saturday at Klockner Stadium, when the 17th ranked Charlotte comes to town. The 'Hoos return 15 letterwinners from last season, including six starters from the title game. With so much experience back the 'Hoos were named the preseason favorite in the ACC, and are ranked second nationally. Let's take a look at the 2015 team.
Although the 'Hoos return many familiar names, the Cavs also say goodbye to a few key guys-especially on the defensive side of the ball. UVa loses defenders Kyler Sullivan and Matt Brown, and the College Cup MVP Calle Brown. Also leaving the team was Darius Madison. Madison was booted off the team for a violation of team rules and is now playing at UMBC.
With older guys gone, it's time to say hello to the new Cavaliers to watch. UVa head coach George Gelnovatch brought in one of the best recruiting classes in the country this year which includes some international experience. Up from Malcolm Dixon, Derrick Etienne and Edward Opuku will provide pace in the attack for the Wahoos. Etienne has a few caps for the Haiti U-23 National team, and his father was a former standout at VCU.
Replacing Brown in goal is sophomore Jeff Caldwell. Caldwell missed plenty of last season after going to play with the United State Under-20 team. But Gelnovatch is very pleased with what he has seen from the experienced keeper.
"He had a great spring, and he' splayed at pretty high levels," he said.
Old face, New Place
Junior Marcus Salandy-Defour returns after sitting out last year with a knee injury. However, Salandy-Defour is expected to play at a different position. The attacking midfielder is now playing as a left back for the Cavaliers, adding a more attacking mentality to its left and right backs this season.
“For sure, we’ll have a lot more teeth with Marcus back,” Gelnovatch said. “He’s a dangerous guy, whether he’s a fullback or a forward."
Target on UVa
With a national title in tow, the expectations are high at UVa, and more teams will be gunning for the chance to beat the champions.
“I think any season, you’re going to have a target on your back just because of the tradition of UVa and how good we’ve always been,” said Todd Wharton. “But coming off the national championship, it will be an even bigger target.
"It started wth Georgetown," said Gelnovatch," we knocked them out of going to the College Cup last year. I felt like the way they played in that game [the preseason 3-0 loss on Saturday], the intensity they played it was more intense than when they played us in the quarterfinals of the NCAA tournament and it's because we knocked them out of the College Cup."
“We know that and we’re ready for it," added Wharton. "We’re just going to have to elevate our game even higher to compete with that.”