The Cornell men’s soccer team (0-6-2) travels to Charlottesville, Virginia this Tuesday to face No.16 Virginia (3-2-2). Virginia is perennially one of the top teams in the nation, with the longest streak of appearances in the NCAA Division 1 Tournament in the history of men’s collegiate soccer. The team has qualified for the tournament every year since 1981 and in the interim has won six national championships.
Yet, both teams are coming off of recent losses. Cornell lost to No. 2 Syracuse last week, while the Cavaliers suffered a 6-1 loss to No. 13 Louisville. Virginia has not won a game against nationally ranked competition yet this season and was offensively outmatched in its latest face-off with Louisville, only getting off a single shot during the entire game compared to the Cardinal’s 20 in total.
The matchup is an exciting opportunity for the Red, which has had a full week since its last game to finally process the results of its first eight performances, work on its weaknesses, and hone its strengths. The team has had a difficult start to the season, often not getting more than a day of recovery, and half of the games have gone into overtime. After finally taking time both for training and rest, the Cornell men are prepared to compete with the Cavaliers, but are anticipating a challenging game ahead.
“I’m expecting something similar to Syracuse, UConn, and American a little bit as far as talent-level,” said head coach John Smith last week. “It’ll be a good one.”
Considering Cornell’s excellent defensive statistics this year, if Virginia continues to underperform offensively, they could be hard-pressed to score at all against the Red. Even in matches where Cornell has given the opposition numerous chances on goal, the team has yet to let in more than three goals in a game, a feat which can be mostly attributed to the prowess of freshman keeper, Ryan Shellow.
Shellow saved a total of 13 shots in the most recent match against Syracuse. With that kind of history, Virginia will need to take much more chances on goal this week to pull off a win, a fact which ought to give Cornell greater confidence in spite of the Cavalier’s formidable history.
A win is not out of the question for the Red, as its record fails to reflect just how much the team has developed. This season has been much more successful than the last, especially in regards to scoring opportunities. Less than halfway through the 2016 schedule, Cornell has only scored three fewer goals than it did the entire previous season. Smith is excited by the direction the program is headed and the attitude with which the players have approached the season.
“I’ve not seen a group that’s lost hope,” said Smith following the game against Syracuse last Tuesday. “I can’t always say that teams [I’ve coached] in the past would have continued to show courage throughout all these games… and not show signs of just giving up. They’ve all given everything they’ve got – and there’s a heck of a lot to be said about that.”
The team will need to take a big step forward to pull off a win. But all things considered, sheer work ethic and character just might be enough for the Cornell men to upset the Cavaliers on Tuesday night.