|School – VCU|
|Conference – Atlantic 10|
|Coach – Dave Giffard (5th Season)|
Background –The Rams posted a double-digit win total for the third consecutive season in 2013, an impressive feat considering the difficulty of their non-conference schedule. The team faced three eventual College Cup teams in Maryland, Virginia and New Mexico, with the likes of Akron, Wake Forest, Indiana, Coastal Carolina and UAB mixed in for good measure. VCU reached No. 8 in the national rankings after an early season three-game stretch when it tied New Mexico at home and then beat Maryland and Akron on the road. But that was followed by losses to Coastal Carolina, Wake Forest and Virginia to drop them all the way out of the poll. After closing the regular season on a 7-2-1 run, the campaign came to a disappointing end with an overtime loss to George Mason in the A-10 semifinals and a 3-0 home loss to Navy in the first round of the NCAA tournament. The Rams landed a quartet of players on the NSCAA All-Mid-Atlantic squad, with defender Dennis Castillo picking up first-team honors, forward Kharlton Belmar on the second team and defender Juan Monge Solano and midfielder Romena Bowie landing on the third team. Those four were joined on the All-Conference team by midfielder Devon Fisher while midfielder Dakota Barnathan and forward Rahim Costa-Dorsey earned A-10 All-Rookie team honors.
Offense –VCU returns nearly all of its attacking options from a year ago, with Kharlton Belmar leading the way as the target forward in Giffard’s 4-2-3-1 formation. The senior notched eight goals in 2013 and has 14 in his career. Rahim Costa-Dorsey popped in a pair of goals in his freshman season a year ago and could force his way into the starting lineup with a good preseason. Senior Jose Manel (3g, 3a) will start the year as the team’s CAM with newcomers Jorge Herranz (Atletico Madrid youth product) and Kai Marshall (Virginia Tech transfer) challenging sophomore returnee Jason McGlothern for the backup role. Senior Mario Herrera Meraz (1g) is locked in on the left wing and senior Ritchie Duffie (2g, 2a) is the starter on the right. Redshirt freshman Greg Boehme and true freshman Rafael Andrade Santos will also compete for time out wide.
Defense –Devon Fisher (3g, 1a) will move into a holding midfield role as a junior after playing forward as a freshman and attacking midfielder as a sophomore. He’ll be joined in the defensive midfield by senior Ray DeLeon, with Dakota Barnathan, UNC transfer Francesco Amorosino and Virginia Tech transfer Brandon Eaton also in the mix for minutes. The back four is an experienced and talented international unit. Costa Ricans Dennis Castillo and Juan Monge Solano man the outside back positions while Juan Fajardo Ortiz of Honduras and Assane Keita of Sengal hold down the center back spots. Castillo and Solano are serious threats getting forward, with Castillo netting six goals each of the past two years and Solano registering five assists in 2013. Junior Isaac Owusu will be a key defensive reserve for the Rams. With the graduation of two-year starter Andrew Wells, junior Garrett Cypress has the inside track to start in net. He’ll be pushed by newcomer Pierre Gardan from France who played for the youth team at Stade Rennais.
Newcomers – Four Star Recruiting Class
Coach Giffard stated: “It’s a large class, but as a staff this is what we thought made sense in the big picture. It’s so hard for new guys coming in to contribute right away, so we made the decision to get these guys in early and give them time to develop. They’ll get in some valuable practice time this fall and then in the spring is when the development will really happen. As a senior laden team, this is what made sense for us this season.”
Nathan Abraham – Defender – Arlington, Va. – Played for D.C. United Academy team. Graduated high school early and joined the Rams for the spring semester.
Francesco Amorosino – Midfielder – Washington, D.C. – Transfer from North Carolina. Redshirted for the Tar Heels in 2013. Italian native moved to D.C. for high school, attending Washington International School. Played for the McLean Youth Soccer club team
Brandon Eaton – Midfielder – Chesapeake, Va. – Transfer from Virginia Tech. Appeared in 17 games (seven starts) for the Hokies in 2013, registering two assists.
James Ellis – Midfielder – Chesapeake, Va. – Scored 11 goals in 40 games for the Virginia Rush club team the past two seasons. Attended U.S. Soccer U-14 and U-15 National Team camp.
Pierre Gardan – Goalkeeper – Lorient, France – Played for the Stade Rennais U-17 and U-19 teams. Trained with Ligue 2 club Angers SCO.
Joseph Gonnella – Midfielder – Charlottesville, Va. – Scored twice in 46 games for the Richmond Strikers club team the past two seasons.
Joseph Haney – Midfielder – Chesapeake, Va. – Scored twice in 32 games for the Virginia Rush club team the past two seasons.
Jorge Herranz – Forward – Madrid, Spain – Atletico Madrid youth product also played for youth teams at Las Rozas CF and AD Alcorcon.
Curtis Kirby – Midfielder – Virginia Beach, Va. – Member of Beach FC club team and All-State player at Cape Henry Collegiate School.
Eli Lockaby – Midfielder – Orlando, Fla. – Member of the Orlando City SC club team and All-Region player at Timber Creek High School.
Kai Marshall – Midfielder – Charlottesville, Va. – Transfer from Virginia Tech. Appeared in 25 games (14 starts) for the Hokies over the past two seasons, registering five goals and three assists.
Imad Mojaddidi – Midfielder – Fairfax Station, Va. – Played for D.C. United Academy team. Graduated high school early and joined the Rams for the spring semester.
Joseph Rice – Goalkeeper – Fairfax, Va. – Member of the Lee Mount Vernon club team and All-State player for Fairfax High School.
Rafael Andrade Santos – Midfielder – Rio de Janiero, Brazil – Flamengo FC youth product played high school soccer at Montverde Academy and helped team to back-to-back national championships.
Hunter Simons – Midfielder – Chesterfield, Va. – Member of the Richmond Kickers academy team.
Tyler Stowell – Midfielder – Lumbarton, N.J. – Played for Match Fit academy team. Attended U.S. Soccer U-14 National Team camp.
Prognosis for 2014 –The only real question mark is at keeper, but beyond that the team is loaded with experienced players in every unit. VCU has all four 2013 College Cup qualifiers (Notre Dame, Maryland, New Mexico and Virginia) on the non-conference slate in 2014, plus the likes of North Carolina, Georgetown and Old Dominion. That gauntlet will serve the Rams well come playoff time as they challenge for their first conference title since winning the 2003 CAA crown. A successful regular season should have VCU in the running for an NCAA tournament seed, and there isn’t a team in the nation that would be happy to have to match up with VCU after Thanksgiving.