Virginia men's soccer has made a lot of history in the NCAA tournament in the last three decades. The Cavaliers have won seven national titles, including last season's win, and they currently hold the longest streak in Division 1 men's soccer with 35 consecutive NCAA berths. So when the Wahoos hit the field on Thursday night the expectations are pretty high.
"I love them [the expectations]," said junior midfielder Patrick Foss. "The bar is set to so high that if we're not back in the College Cup, if we're not back at the championship game, it's a failure. I think anything less than that it's not a team that I want to play for."
Thursday night the Cavs will begin their defense of their national crown at Klöckner, as UVA hosts Rider in its opening game of the tournament.
"We've been practicing really well," said senior midfielder Todd Wharton. "Coming off a loss [to Notre Dame in ACC tournament] thats been really hard on us, so we will definitely be motivated to make a run."
Rider is making its third appearance in the NCAA tournament after securing an automatic bid by winning the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference tournament championship. The Broncs won the title by knocking off the top-seed Monmouth 3-2.
"Last couple of days we've been watching a lot of film a lot of tape," said red-shirt sophomore defender Wesley Suggs. "We see that they are a really good tea. They are going to be a tough team. They have a bunch of special foreign guys, but I feel like we are prepared."
The visitors will provide a good test for the Cavalier defense. The team has recorded 42 goals this season which is 11th nationally. Christian Flath and Elliott Otmani are two threatening attackers, who have netted eight goals each.
Although the Cavs have won its last five NCAA home matches, Rider is not phased away from home - the Broncs have an impressive 9-2 record on the road.
"[Rider is] very technical," added Suggs. "They definitely pose a threat going forward. Defensively I feel like we can get at them. I feel like we are very organized team, and I feel like we will exploit some of their weaknesses."
"I think we just have to focus on our own game," stated Wharton. "I think the only way we are going to lose is if we beat ourselves. I think if we can connect the ball going forward, and be patient in the attacking half, we can get some goals and keep them off the board and win the game."
Although the Cavs did not win the ACC tournament, the 'Hoos secured its 35th straight winning season (the longest streak in the Division one men's soccer) and tied for second place in the ACC Coastal Division with a 4-2-2 record. As stated earlier, UVA has been to the big dance before. Virginia has qualified for the College Cup for the last three seasons, which means the 'Hoos have plenty of experience.
"We are really hoping to use our experience; we know what it takes to win," said Suggs. "We know how important the team culture is going forward. It's really coming together."
"It takes a whole lot of heart and a whole lot of determination...At the end of the day, it's doing what other guys aren't willing to do," said Foss. [Last season] the guys were playing for each other, and they were willing to do whatever it took to win. Sometimes it's going to ugly."
Ugly or not, for guys like Wharton, a senior, it's their last chance to leave their own mark on a historic program.
"We don't take anything for granted,' said Wharton.
Kickoff is slated for 7 P.M.
HooNation.com will have coverage from the game Thursday night.