VCU - Four Star Recruiting Class - The win trend line is clearly headed upward at VCU where Dave Giffard in a relatively short period of time has put in place a very solid foundation upon which the program continues to build. The Rams have now had three consecutive winning seasons. Last year the Rams were 12-4-3 overall and returned to the NCAA Tourney field for the first time since the 2004 season. The twelve wins were the most VCU has recorded since the 2007 season and it was the first time since 2004 that the Rams had back-to-back double-digit win seasons.
Despite the fact that VCU will be without several key players, Giffard will enter his fourth season as the head coach at VCU with a roster that from top to bottom looks to be the strongest that Giffard has had to date. Departures include forward Jason Johnson, the 2012 Atlantic Ten Offensive Player of the Year, who elected to forgo his senior season in order to enter the professional ranks as well as midfielder Joseph Haboush (2g, 5a) and defenders Juan ArJuan Arbelaez (0g, 4a) and Brad Seymour (0g, 1a) who have graduated.
The Rams remain a work in progress as all signs point toward continued improvement in a program that finished above .500 just once in the five seasons prior to the time that Gifford assumed the reigns of the program. However there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic about what is happening right now at VCU. With seven starters returning and a solid twelve man recruiting class reporting for duty the Rams should challenge for the A-10 title in 2013 if everything falls into place.
VCU's twelve member recruiting class has high end potential but overall may require a little time to mature. The newcomers have a background of competitive play and the raw physical skills needed to fit into VCU's possession oriented style of play. Giffard and his staff appear to be doing a very good job of recruiting team oriented players with very specific skill sets in mind. Since the 2013 class is a large and relatively diverse group of newcomers, the ability of the VCU coaching staff to effectively merge the newcomers in with the returning players will have an impact on VCU's success in 2013.
Giffard stated, "We are thrilled with our incoming group for 2013. This class is loaded with character but also ability. Before their time at VCU finishes, this group is going to play a critical role in solidifying our place among the nation's elite soccer programs."
Any analysis of VCU in 2013 has to being with the fact that the Rams have what can only be described as a brutal schedule that includes eleven opponents who participated in the NCAA Tournament last year. Giffard stated, "Simply put, this is the most challenging schedule I've ever faced. Our eleven non-conference opponents all participated in last year's NCAA Tournament, including six of the fifteen national seeds."
VCU's dance card includes games on the road against Maryland, Akron, Wake Forest and Virginia. It also includes home matches at Sports Backers Stadium in Richmond with the likes of Old Dominion, New Mexico, Coastal Carolina and Indiana. It is an ambitious schedule to say the least. On the plus side it clearly presents the Rams the opportunity to make their presence known on the national scene and should prepare them well for Atlantic 10 play. On the other hand that difficult a schedule has the potential to take a physical and mental toll on a team over the course of a season. Clearly it will test the mettle and focus of the Rams.
The biggest gap to fill is the void that exists on the offensive side of the ball due to the loss of Johnson who scored twenty-eight goals and contributed ten assists during his three year tenure at VCU. The issue of a potential drop-off is created anytime a team loses a player who put the ball in the back of the net as many times as Johnson did. However, a drop off might not be the case at VCU heading into the 2013 season.
Redshirt sophomore Devon Fisher (6g, 1a) is among key returning players who Giffard will likely count on to play a key role in the attack in 2013 either up-top or in the midfield. Fisher was named to the 2012 Atlantic 10 All-Rookie team. Juniors Kharlton Belmar (5g, 2a) and Jose Manel (1g, 1a) are among other returning forwards who likely will be looked to for offensive productivity. Redshirt junior Ritchie Duffie who played for North Carolina Wesleyan in 2011 had a strong spring season at forward and is among others who could be in the mix up-top in 2013.
The midfield should be very talented and deep. Senior Romena Bowie (0g, 2a), a 2012 All-Atlantic 10 First Team selection who played through nagging injuries last year, returns to set the pace in the midfield. Bowie is a dynamic all-around performer who has been a starter and impact player since arriving on campus. He will be joined by junior Mario Herrea Meraz (6g, 8a) who is a playmaker with great touch on the ball and quickness. Senior center mid Nate Shiffman (0g, 2a, a starter for the past two seasons, is a very effective linkman who does a good job of finding the open man. Redshirt freshman defensive mid Dakota Barnathan also looks to be ready to play a key role in 2013. Incoming freshmen Pablo Paz from Costa Rica, Luka Vujanovic who hails from Montenegro, and Greg Boehme from Virginia look to be in the mix in the midfield. Center midfielder Ray De Leon who transfers in from DePaul should also be in the hunt for playing time.
Sophomore center back Dennis Castillo (6g, 0a) returns to anchor the backline. Castillo was a 2012 College Soccer News All-Freshman selection and an All-Atlantic 10 Second Team selection. Castillo is a member of the Costa Rican U-20 National Team. He will be joined by redshirt junior center back Assane Keita (0g, 1a) who was hampered last year due to injury but appears ready to go in 2013. Junior Juan Monge Solano (1g, 1a) returns at the left back spot with two very successful seasons of play under his belt. He has also honed his skills playing with the Costa Rican National Team. Senior Garrett Harvey (1g, 0a) who played in nine contests last year and redshirt sophomore Jack Bates (0g, 1a) who appeared in seven games are among other returning backs who will seek a greater role in 2013.
Redshirt senior Andrew Wells returns in goal with the benefit of a year of starting experience under his belt. Last year Wells had a 1.07 goals against average and recorded four shutouts.
VCU will have plenty of chances to prove their worth and enhance their team resume as it relates to the NCAA Tournament selection process via non-conference games but ultimately their success will depend on how well they perform in Atlantic 10 play. The Rams will clearly be a team to keep any eye on in 2013.
Donovan Arias - Midfield - Played for Bethesda soccer club. Member of the Region I and Virginia ODP teams.
Greg Boehme - Midfield - Forest Park High School - Played for the McLean Academy. Member of the Region I ODP team. All-State. All-Met.
Ray De Leon - Midfield - Grand Prairie, Texas - South Grand Prairie - Senior transfer from DePaul where he played in twelve games in 2012. Played club with Dallas Texans.
Juan Fajardo - Defender - Member of Honduras U-17 National Team pool. Played for C.D. Olimpia in Talanga, Honduras.
Michael Gaffary - Goalkeeper - St. John the Baptist High School - Member of Albertson's U-18 Academy team. Member of Region I ODP team. All-State. All-League.
Bobby Hopper - Defender - Lambert High School - Netted eleven goals and contributed eight assists at Lambert in 2012. All-Region selection. Versatile player.
Jason McGlothern - Midfield - Played for the Seattle Sounders Academy. Member of the Washington State ODP team. Trained with FC Nuremberg's academy in Germany in 2012.
Pablo Paz - Midfield - Played for Costa Rican U-20 National Team. Played for the youth team of Uruguay de Coronado. An attacking midfielder.
Luka Vujanovic - Midfield - Montverde Academy - Member of various Montenegro National teams.
Finnlay Wyatt - Midfield - Midlothian High School - Played for Richmond Kickers Academy. All-Region. All-Metro selection. Left sided player.
Rahim Costa-Dorsey - Forward - Mount Vernon High School - Member of McLean Academy team. Member of German U-14 National Pool. A goal scorer.
Joel Teston - Forward - Forward - Member of the McLean Academy team. Has played with the Region 1 and Region 2 ODP teams. U.S. U-14 National Team pool.