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Charlie Ahn collapsed to his knees and laid face-down on the grass, his head buried in his hands. Romena Bowie laid on his back, inconsolable, his eyes glazed and glaring toward the sky.
A season that started with an unbeaten streak and weeks worth of national rankings for the players and coaching staff of VCU’s men’s soccer team has long been a distant memory. But following the Rams’ 1-0 loss to Georgia State before 409 at Sportsbackers Stadium Wednesday night, now their playoff chances are too.
Second-year head coach Dave Giffard — a coach so pedigreed and confident he proudly proclaims National Championship aspirations — will miss the postseason for the first time since he came to the school. And after VCU completes their season in what is now a meaningless game against Delaware on Saturday, a season that began with much promise will end without prosper.
With the win, the Panthers vaulted into the sixth and final CAA Tournament spot at the Rams’ expense.
Georgia State won the game through a towering header from sophomore forward Evan Scott, who rose like a salmon on a corner kick in the 43rd minute to power it past VCU senior goalkeeper Josh Pantazelos. The goal came off of the Panthers’ sixth corner kick of the half, but the Rams may had never been in such precarious positions if it wasn’t for a highly questionable red card on sophomore midfielder Nate Shiffman.
In the 26th minute, Shiffman slid in for a loose ball between him and a Georgia State player. On the play, Shiffman slightly raises his studs toward the air — a highly dangerous play that can potentially constitute a straight red card — but did so barely and without any hint of malice. Nonetheless, the referee didn’t hesitate and immediately reached to his back pocket and red-carded the midfielder.
With such a questionable call in such an important game in such an early stage of the game, the call left VCU’s players and coaches confused and feeling conned. The Panthers appeared to seize the momentum of the moment and eventually utilized it into scoring their goal.
Yet in the second half, even though they were down a man, VCU was able to buck the trend. The Rams produced numerous, glorious opportunities to put the ball into the back of the net but all ultimately failed. All except for a shot from sophomore forward Jason Johnson in 19 minutes left in the match, but the Jamaican international was ruled offside and the goal was nullified. Emblematic of the team’s frustration at the way the game was going, VCU assistant coach Brett Teach kicked over his chair in disgust when Johnson’s goal was called back.
After Johnson’s offside effort, the Rams’ best chance fell to junior Juan Arbelaez, who blazed a beautiful cross inches over the bar to the dismay of his teammates and coaches.
When the final whistle sounded, Giffard shook his head but walked over and shook hands with Georgia State’s coaches. Meanwhile, his players — their dreams dashed — simply laid down. Two years in, the high-aspirations project Giffard started at VCU is just getting started— but after their loss to GSU Wednesday, those aspirations end for now.
Photo by: Chris Conway