"We were focused. We had 18 days to focus on this game. I thought it was a very competitive soccer game," West Virginia head coach Marlon LeBlanc said. "Getting to the final 16 was a step we wanted to take for the program and we finally took that big step."
That big step was taken in a back and forth game that was as physical as it was competitive. Both teams had several quality chances in the first half. The best chance of the first period came from Stratford, who collected a corner kick from freshman midfielder Dan Hagey just inside the box, and fired a low screamer off the left post. The Cavaliers controlled play for much of the first half, holding a 7-5 advantage on shots and a 3-1 edge in corner kick opportunities.
West Virginia created more chances in the second half, recording eight shots and seven corner kicks in the second period. Stratford broke the 0-0 tie in the 51st minute when he took a free kick from five yards outside the top of the box and fired a rocket into the top left corner of the net.
"The goalkeeper was a little off of center so I was aiming at that left corner. I was working on that kick in training yesterday for a long time, maybe a little too long," Stratford said. "I just had the confidence that I could get the ball up and then get it back down again to get it into the goal."
Virginia's best chance to get the equalizer came in the 58th minute when midfielder Jeremy Barlow tip-toed through a gaggle of Mountaineer defenders and fired a firm strike at the top left corner of the net. West Virginia goalkeeper Zach Johnson made a gorgeous punch save, forcing the ball out wide and allowing the stout WVU defense to clear the ball.
For the game, Virginia held a narrow advantage on shots (14-13), while West Virginia had a slight edge on corner kicks (7-6). Both teams put three shots on goal. The game was a physical affair that featured a combined 26 fouls and four yellow cards. West Virginia recorded its school-record 14th shutout of the season. Following the contest LeBlanc was pleased to get to the round of 16 for the first time but the second-year coach also emphasized that his team isn't happy with just making it this far.
"The goal is to win a National Championship. We have raised the bar here," LeBlanc said. "A year ago making the NCAA tournament was good enough for us but it's not good enough anymore. This team has much higher goals."
WVU will get another ACC opponent in its next hurdle on the road to the College Cup in the form of No. 2 Wake Forest. The Demon Deacons advanced tonight with a 1-0 victory over Furman.
"We're playing arguably the best team in the country and it's on the road. It's going to be a difficult match for us but this team has proven over the course of the season that we can go into big environments and win," LeBlanc said. "I think theses guys are capable of going on the road and getting a result. I like our chances."
West Virginia (14-5-2) will travel to Winston Salem, N.C., this weekend to take on Wake Forest in a match that will be held either Dec. 1 or Dec. 2. The time of the match has not been set.