RICHMOND, Va. – The dawn of a new era in VCU Men's Soccer
will begin Friday when the Black & Gold travels to
Charlottesville to face defending national champion University of
Virginia. The 2010 Rams will feature a fresh look that
includes first-year Head Coach Dave Giffard and 18
newcomers as VCU returns just six starters from last year's 5-10-2
squad. After accepting the job on Dec. 31, 2009, Giffard and
his staff quickly got to work and assembled a highly-touted
recruiting class less than four months later.
The VCU roster will once again include senior captains Thomas Hupper (right) and C.J. Gehin-Scott, while fellow returning starters Alberto Fonseca, Matthew Scott, Brad Seymour and Gabriel Rodriguez are each back for their second season with the Rams.
Joining the returners is a recruiting class highlighted by a crop of talented international standouts including Romena Bowie (Saint Mary, Jamaica), Jose Carlos Castillo (Guatemala City, Guatemala) and Jason Johnson (Saint Anne, Jamaica). Hailing from Manchester High School in Jamaica, Bowie and Johnson were each selected to the Jamaican Senior National Team Camp, after leading their squad to a runner-up finish in 2010 DaCosta Cup competition. Meanwhile, Castillo, who spent two months in the Guatemala Senior National Team Camp in 2009, boasts 45 caps for the Guatemala Youth National Teams.
Along with international talent, VCU will welcome a pair of Division I transfers, three Division II standouts and a host of local products.
Giffard has set high standards for the 2010 Rams as his squad will face three of the four teams that reached the NCAA Men's College Cup last year. It doesn't get much easier after VCU battles defending champ UVA in its first exhibition match on Aug. 20, as the Black & Gold travels to the University of Akron just five days later to face the Zips, who fell to the Cavaliers in penalty kicks in last year's title game. VCU then welcomes Atlantic Coast Conference power University of North Carolina to Sports Backers Stadium on Oct. 26.
"The schedule was all but done when we arrived, but with the few open dates left, we wanted to challenge our team with some of the best college soccer has to offer," said Giffard. "As we begin the process of building VCU Soccer back into a national contender, there will be many new experiences along the way. The opening two games and the home game with Carolina are an important part of the evolution of our program.
"We wanted to challenge our guys right out of the gate and by playing last year's title game participants we're definitely doing that."
The Rams open their 2010 home schedule with the Richmond Marriott Classic presented by Adidas, a four-team tournament featuring Florida Gulf Coast, Coastal Carolina and Old Dominion, Sept. 4-6.
VCU, which was picked seventh in the Colonial Athletic Association preseason coaches poll, will open the conference schedule at home against Northeastern on Sept. 25. VCU will also entertain preseason favorite UNC Wilmington, Old Dominion, Hofstra and Drexel.
After facing Wofford and Howard at the Coastal Carolina Tournament (Sept. 10-12) in Myrtle Beach, S.C., the Black & Gold will play back-to-back road matches against cross-town rival Richmond and Longwood. VCU also travels to CAA foes Georgia State, George Mason, William & Mary, Towson, James Madison and Delaware.
The CAA Championship, which features the league's top four teams, is set for Nov. 12-14.
"During the spring Josh and Gabe separated themselves from the rest of the group slightly and it would be my guess that those two are fighting for the starting job coming into the season, but Jack and Andrew aren't far behind and anything could happen" said Giffard. "We have a good, strong base of goalkeepers on our team and it will be a good competition. I don't think anyone at this point has won the job. Each guy brings his own strengths and it is going to be one of our many positions where we have competition.
"We have a good solid corps of goalkeepers and I would be comfortable with any of the four playing in games this fall."
The old adage of "defense wins championships" is likely the motto for VCU in 2010 as the Rams will ride the success of their back line in Giffard's first campaign. Huepper is making the switch from center midfield to center back in his final season, while Gehin-Scott (left) and fellow returning starters Seymour and Scott will anchor the Black & Gold defense. Newcomers Peter Lee, a local product that played left back all spring, Assane Keita, Nick Rich and Sven Meyer will all compete for starting roles as well.
Meanwhile, Chris Maimone, who missed the previous two seasons with an injury, is healthy for the first time in his VCU career and is expected to work his way back into the mix. Fellow newcomers Will Donovan, Mike Jennings and Chirag Shah will also add depth in the back.
"Teams that are very successful at a high level have a very strong defensive unit," said Giffard. "Most certainly the back line will be an important piece of how successful we are in 2010. That success, in large part, will be determined by how strong our defensive unit is. With the leadership of players like Thomas and CJ, we are excited about our back line this fall. We will be young but at the same time, we'll have a lot of options and a lot of competition. It will be a very important piece of the puzzle."
The Rams return three midfielders from last year's squad led by Fonseca, who started 16 games and recorded a pair of goals and one assist. Reserves Curt Van Brackle and Joseph Haboush are also back in the midfield for VCU.
Giffard will blend a talented crop of newcomers including Lucas Paulini, who recently received All-Southeast Conference recognition while playing for the Mississippi Brilla in the Premier Development League, Bowie and Castillo. Bowie participated in both the Jamaican senior and Olympic team camps this summer, while Castillo spent most of the summer in residency with the Guatemalan U-21 squad, which will eventually be the next Olympic team, and spent much of last fall in camp with the Guatemala senior national squad.
Also joining the Rams this fall are BJ Watson and local product Nate Shiffman, both of whom will push for time in the midfield.
"Games are often won and lost in midfield and in order to play an effective and attractive brand of soccer, it's important to have midfielders who are talented, hard-working and are able to keep possession," said Giffard. "They must also have the ability to win balls back when possession is lost, as well as be able to pull a rabbit out of the hat at times. I think our midfield could be the strength of our team in 2010.
VCU will feature a new look up front this fall as the Black & Gold have no returning forwards from last year's squad. However, Jake Van Yahres, who played for VCU in 2008, is back after sitting out the 2009 campaign. Van Yahres appeared in 11 games with six starts in his only season with the Rams but came on strong in the spring and proved to be the team's leading scorer. Van Yahres is expected to play an important role this fall.
Perhaps the most highly-touted newcomer is Jason Johnson. The athletic, strong forward is a member of both the Jamaican Olympic Team Pool as well as the Jamaican Senior National Team. Johnson made his international debut for Jamaica on Feb. 10, 2010 when he came on in the second half in a match against Argentina.
Meanwhile, Yoram Mwila, a transfer from Akron, could team with Johnson in what might prove to be an effective duo up front for the Rams. Mwila, who saw action in 20 games and collected three goals and two assists in his rookie season for the Zips, also brings valuable international experience to the Black & Gold. He served as captain of the U-17 Zambian National team and is a current member of the U-20 squad.
Freshmen newcomers Jacob Doyle, Mountain View High School's (Stafford, Va.) all-time leading scorer, and Chase Farnsworth, a local product from Monacan High School, will add depth up front.
There's no doubt the 2010 Rams will feature a fresh look as Giffard and his staff are eager to return VCU to postseason play.
"We're excited to begin fall camp," Giffard said. "It's the next step in our journey here in taking VCU Soccer to the next level. Returning players in the spring have done a great job raising their level of expectation and instilling within themselves some of the winning characteristics that we believe in. A big part of preseason and the beginning of the fall will be to pass on some of those lessons to the newcomers to set the standard and show the expectation of what being a VCU Soccer player is all about."
The new regime is well on its way to restoring the program with a solid recruiting class, which has the potential to go down as one of the greatest in program history. With 11 returners and a talented crop of newcomers, the Rams are ready to make noise this fall.