The Cavaliers will be without a lot of star power due to the fact that several players left to pursue professional careers. The departures create a challenge but George Gelnovatch and his staff are pretty good at filling big shoes and winning championships. There isn’t a more reliable team in college soccer than the Virginia Cavaliers who have earned a berth in the NCAA Tournament for thirty-nine consecutive seasons including twenty-four under Gelnovatch.
Departures and Gaps – Virginia will be without defender Robin Afamefuna who was a four-year starter and team captain due to graduation. The Cavaliers will also be without the services of All-American forward Daryl Dike (10g, 8a) who was a two-year starter, All-American defender Henry Kessler (1g, 0a) who was a two-year starter, All-American midfielder Joe Bell (7g, 4a) who was a three-year starter, and forward Daniel Steedman (3g, 7a) who elected to enter the professional ranks. Kessler and Bell left at the conclusion of their junior season while Dike and Steedman elected to leave after their sophomore season. .
Opportunity for Improvement – Early departures provide the opportunity and the necessity for several of the returning players to assume a much greater role in 2020 without a prolonged learning curve. It also provides the opportunity for the next generation of Cavalier stars to emerge
Coach’s Recruiting Class Comment – George Gelnovatch stated, “This class gives us an immediate injection of experience and leadership and sprinkles in some really good young talent.” Gelnovatch added, “We were presented with a big challenge back in January after a good number of our veterans moved on to the professional ranks and/or graduated. I think there is a nice blend of transfers with familiarity with this level of soccer as well as a good number of international guys that can help us right away.”
Summary – Virginia is coming off a banner 2019 season in which they were 21-2-1, won the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament, were awarded the number one seed in the NCAA Tournament and advanced to the national final where they tied Georgetown 3-3 after 110 minutes of play but were edged by Hoyas 7-6 in a penalty kick shootout.
Virginia was a tough team to face last year in large part because they successfully upped their level of productivity and explosiveness on the offensive side of the ball while continuing to be among the most tenacious teams in the country on the defensive side of the ball. The Cavaliers found the back of the net a total of forty-six times last year while allowing opponents to score a total of thirteen goals. Virginia’s resilience and explosiveness on the offensive side of the ball was a difference maker throughout the season. Virginia’s 3-1 win over Duke in their ACC season opener, their 3-1 win over Clemson in the ACC Championship match, and their 3-2 win over SMU in the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament were excellent examples of their resilience.
Virginia will enter the 2020 season with several unanswered questions on both sides of the ball. College coaches plan ahead to fill the voids that exist due to graduation but the early departure of players to the professional ranks are often difficult to anticipate. The loss of forward Daryl Dike (10g, 3a), midfielder Joe Bell (7g, 4a) and forward Daniel Steedman (3g, 7a) creates a void on the offensive side of the ball while the loss of Robin Afamefuna (2g, 2a) and Henry Kessler (1g, 0a) leaves some big and experienced shoes to fill on the defensive side of the ball.
The good news is that the quality of talent on Virginia’s roster is always solid with a wealth of skilled and soccer savvy players on board. In addition, George Gelnovatch does a really good job annually of sorting out and making the adjustments in the style of play that need to be made to align with the strengths of his players and maximize their productivity.
The ability of the individual players to effectively merge their individual talents into a unified team, mental toughness, and experience are the key variables from season to season at Virginia. Those factors will have a huge impact on the productivity of the 2020 team. Clearly the 2019 squad checked all the boxes. They were a talented as well as cohesive, tough and experienced team. Virginia will enter the 2020 season with some proven pieces on board but replicating the balance and toughess of the 2019 team will not be easy and is a stretch.
Senior Nathaniel Crofts (6g, 3a), a three-year starter, returns to power the attack up-top. Crofts is a playmaker with all-conference talent. Senior Irakoze Donasiyano (4g, 6a) who has been a starter for the past two seasons gives the Cavaliers another swift, capable and experienced finisher either up top or in the midfield. Junior Cabrel Happi Kamseu (2g, 1a) who was hampered last year due to injury and sophomores Axel Gunnarsson (2g, 4a) and Philip Horton (1g, 0a) are among returning mainstays who could help fill the void that exists on the offensive side of the ball. Sophomore forward Matthew Warbrick is among other returning players who will seek to assume a greater role in 2020. Sophomore transfer Kevin Ogudugu from Portland and freshmen Kaya Ignacio and Leo Afonso are among the newcomers who could push for playing time and add depth to the offense up top.
Senior Spencer Patton (4g, 1a) who played in twenty-four contests with four starts last year is among the returning midfielders who look to be in the hunt for a greater role in 2020. Senior Beau Bradley, junior Ben Grant, and sophomores Jeremy Verley, Isaiah Byrd and Nick Berghold are among other returning midfielders who seek to be in the mix. Graduate student Joan Gilbert and freshman Jules Anderson are among the midfielders in the recruiting class who should make the competition for playing time in the midfield interesting.
How the Cavaliers replace backs Robin Afamefuna and Henry Kessler will be critical. Sophomore Andreas Ueland (3g, 1a) who had a banner freshman season and junior Bret Halsey (1g, 2a) who were starters last year provide a solid necleus upon which to reload the backline. Sophomores Eden Noverr and Reed Kessler are among other returning defenders who will seek to play a greater role in 2020. Transfer Oliver Gerbig, a starter for the past two seasons at Coastal Carolina, and graduate student Louis Evans who appeared in twenty-eight carrer contests at Davidson are experienced members of the recruiting class who could be in the hunt for a starting spot in the back.
United Soccer Coaches and College Soccer News All-American redshirt senior Colin Shuter returns in goal to anchor the defense. Shuter, a starter for the past two seasons, recorded a 0.53 goals against average last year while posting fifteen shutouts. Shuter is a top notch shot stopper with superb instints and composure between the pipes.
Leo Afonso – Forward – Boynton Beach, Florida – YSC Academy – Played for Boca United, Philadelphia Union and Inter Miami. Scored twenty-five goals for Boca United in 2017-2018.
Julian Aguilar – Midfielder – Guatemala City, Guatemala – American School of Guatemala – Played for Achik Club and was team captain for three seasons. Lead Achik Club in assists. Named to the Association of American Schools of Central America Tournament All-Star Team.
Jules Anderson – Midfielder – Ocean, New Jersey – YSC Academy – Played for Philadelphia Union and Rangers FC. Ranked by College Soccer News as the number twenty player in the class of 2020.
Holden Brown – Goalkeeper – Zionsville, Indiana – Zionsville High School – Played for Zionsville Youth Academy for five years before joining the Indiana Fire Development Academy. Signed with Indy 11 (USL) prior to the 2019 season. First Team All-State as a sophomore in high school.
Rafael Caipo – Midfielder – Lima, Peru – Franklin Delano Roosevelt – Played for Sporting Cristal. Played for the Peruvian National Team at the U-15 and U-17 levels. Captain of the U-17 Peruvian National Team.
Louis Evans – Defender – Canterbury, New Zealand – Graduate Student transfer from Davidson College where he appeared in twenty-eight games with twenty-six starts. Started ten of eleven contests with Davidson in 2019 season. Suffered a season-ending injury two games into his junior season.
Oliver Gerbig – Devender – Taipei, Taiwan – Junior transfer from Coastal Carolina where he appeared in thirty-five contests. Played in twenty-one games in 2019 with twenty starts. Played for Hong Kong in the AFC U-23 Qualifiers in the spring of 2019. Member of Hong Kong U-20 National Team.
Joan Gilbert – Midfielder – Barcelona, Spain – Played club soccer for Valencia Academy, UE Cornella, UE Castelldefels and most recently with Santfeliuenc (2018-2020).
Kaya Ignacio – Forward – Georgetown, Texas – Georgetown – Played club for Lonestar SC and most recently the Houston Dynamo Academy. Team captain. Muember of the U-15 U.S. Boys National Team. Named 2018-2019 Houston Dynamo Academy Player of the Year.
Kevin Ogudugu – Forward – Oslo, Norway – Sophomore transfer from the University of Portland. Appeared in nine games with three starts for Portland in 2019 season. Played club soccer for Valerenga IF. Played for Valerenga 2.
Alex Rando – Goalkeeper – New York New York – The Beacon School – Transfer from Stanford University where he didn’t see action last year. Played club soccer for NYCFC (2015-2019). Named the 2019 U-19 Golden Glove Winner.
Chris Scheipe – Midfielder – Duluth, Georgia – Greater Atlanta Christian School – Played club soccer for Concorde Fire and the United Futbol Academy (2017-2020). Served as team captain for the UFA Development Academy.for three years. All-Region selection as a freshman at Greater Atlanta Christian School.
William Shuchart – Forward – St. Petersburg, Florida – East Lake High School – Played for Chargers SC Academy (2014-2019)