Throughout the season, the VCU men’s soccer team relied on a number of players to score goals. Sunday night’s 3-2 overtime loss to Syracuse in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, wasn’t any different.
The Rams finished the season with 41 goals scored. Of those 41, only 19 were scored by actual forwards. Of those 19, Jason Johnson scored 13 of them.
But, if you take away the goals that Johnson contributed this season, VCU’s midfielders and defenders outscored their forwards 22 to 6.
Dennis Castillo’s penalty kick to put the Rams up 2-0 on the Orange was his sixth of the season, tying him for second on the team in goals scored with Mario Herrera Meraz and Devon Fisher. Castillo isn’t a forward though, neither are Meraz or Fisher.
“It is nice to have a variety of players who can give you some positive things on both sides of the ball, but certainly on the attacking side,” said Coach Dave Giffard.
This type of well-rounded scoring ability is what made VCU such a dangerous team this season and was part of the reason they finished with a record of 12-4-5. Two of the four losses came in the past week in the Atlantic 10 Championship game and then Sunday against Syracuse.
Meraz, being one of those tied for second in goals scored, missed Sunday’s match due to a knee injury suffered in the A-10 Championship loss to Saint Louis. The threat in front of goal and his creativity in the midfield was greatly missed against Syracuse.
“Obviously not having Mario tonight (hurt),” said Coach Giffard. “(He) was hot after the past couple weeks (and) as the season wore on, he stepped up and got some good goals for us.”
The absence of a player like Meraz – six goals and eight assists – on a team that so heavily relies on their midfield to create the chances, and often score the goals as well, leaves the team fumbling to replace him with someone.
While goals coming from the midfield aren’t too uncommon in soccer, goals from defenders usually are, especially when defense accounts for seven goals in a season. Giffard praises his team’s scoring ability.
“I think we have a lot of players who’ve shown and proven that they can score goals,” Giffard said. “They can make plays, whether it’s a goal or an assist … it certainly makes it easier for you when the goals can come from a variety of places.”
With the season over, the Rams will begin to look forward to next season and how they can improve on a good first season in the A-10. VCU has five seniors who have played their final game with the team. Joseph Haboush and Juan Arbelaez – two goals and nine assists between them – were regular starters and will be tough to replace.
“Moving forward, we bring back an awful lot. We lose the seniors and we’ll have to wait and see if we have any players that leave school early to go pro,” Giffard said. “I think probably the most exciting piece as we turn the page and look forward to the next year…is really just the experience that the guys have gained.”
The Rams will hope to replicate their A-10 success next year and try to win the championship instead of being runners-up, as well as progress further in the NCAA tournament. Giffard set goals for the program to compete for a national championship year-after-year and he wants to make that goal a reality.
“The best is yet to come,” Giffard said.