Best Seat in the House column by Chris Graham
I want to call the 1-nil win at top-ranked UConn. last weekend a program-defining win for the Virginia Tech men’s soccer program.
But I might be jumping the gun there.
“They’ve got great players. They’ve been by far the number one if not the number two team in the country all year long. We’re eager to get on the pitch againt them on Friday with a good game plan and hope to pull another upset,” Tech soccer coach Oliver Weiss (pronounced “Veiss”) said in an interview for this week’s “SportsDominion Show” on the eve of his team’s national-semifinal match with another team with a claim on being ranked #1 in the country, Wake Forest.
Virginia Tech (14-3-5) and Wake Forest (20-2-2) meet Friday at 5 p.m. in the College Cup in Cary, N.C., in a game that will be broadcast nationally on ESPN2.
The two teams met earlier in the year in Blacksburg – and played to a 3-3 tie in that Oct. 5 contest.
Weiss isn’t sure that we will see that same level of scoring on the pitch on Friday.
“I think the fans would say that it’s going to be a high-scoring affair. The last time we played was about two months ago, and the game produced six goals – it was a 3-3 tie. Last year, we lost to them 4-2 – again, six goals in that game. And if you know soccer, that’s a lot of goals for a soccer game,” Weiss said.
“I think it’s going to be not such a quite high-scoring affair as it was in the last two matches, but it’s still going to produce some very offensive soccer. I think both defenses have held up very well lately, and the form of the day will decide,” Weiss said.
The form of Weiss’ approach to winning soccer has decided the direction of the Virginia Tech soccer program. Tech had not played in an NCAA tournament before his arrival in 2002 – which puts the program’s four tourney trips in the last five years in perspective, as it does Weiss’ 68-38-16 record in six seasons.
I couldn’t imagine that Weiss could have settled into his job in ’02 thinking that he would be in a Final Four five autumns later – but he didn’t hesitate when I asked him a question on that.
“Absolutely. I mean, those were the goals that we stated when we started. It may sound a little bit arrogant, but it’s not. That was the intent,” said Weiss, a native of Burgdorf, Germany, who played college soccer at the University of Richmond and then began his coaching career at the youth level before working his way up the ladder to a post as the top assistant on Elmar Bolowich’s staff at North Carolina on his last stop before getting the head-coaching job at Virginia Tech.
It helped, according to Weiss, that money that flowed in from the success of the football program early in his tenure was available to increase the budget for staff and recruiting. It also helped that Virginia Tech became a member of the hypercompetitive ACC in 2004.
“Everybody considers the ACC the best conference in men’s soccer. Given the fact that every year for the last four years, at least, we’ve had two teams in the Final Fours. And we’ve had many, many national champions over the last 10, 15 years,” Weiss said.
“There’s no easy game. You have four games away, four games home. We only have nine teams in men’s soccer – some of the Southern schools don’t have it, Georgia Tech, Florida State and Miami – so we have nine teams, that gives you eight games. And every weekend when you go to somebody else’s campus, or you have somebody at yours, it’s a dogfight – and you cannot predict the outcome. No matter if you’re at the bottom of the pack, or if you’re at the top of the pack,” Weiss said.
Tech’s 3-1-4 run through the ACC helped get the Hokies ready for what was to come in the NCAA tournament – which began with gritty wins over Cal (3-2) and ODU (1-nil) before the game at Storrs last weekend.
In the UConn. game, MAC Hermann Trophy semifinalist Patrick Nyarko gave Tech the early lead on a beautifully-executed set play, and then the Hokies held on for dear life – the Huskies outshot Virginia Tech 10-1 in the second half, but could not punch a ball into the net.
“There were very few people – maybe only our players – who gave our team a chance of advancing,” Weiss said. “The websites covering college soccer predicted clearly UConn. would win that game. And they brought a 17-0 home record on the season to that game. So yeah – and it was snowing the day before, and it was slippery, and everything was looking for UConn. to get that win. Including those 6,000 people that were at the game.
“That’s when upsets happen,” Weiss said. “We had a good game plan going into the game. We tried to stop them in their tracks, not let them play. We did that. So we got them off their rhythm. Then we got a great goal off a set play that we practice where we just flick the ball out into space and have our fast guy run onto it. And then in the second half we had to hold on for dear life – because the urgency playing at home in a playoff game in front of 6,000 pushes the home team clearly to more energy. But in the end they didn’t really produce when they had chances, except two of them, and we stood our ground.”
For now, then, that was the biggest stand in Virginia Tech soccer history.
A weekend in North Carolina will determine if we have to rewrite the record books in that regard.
Chris Graham is the executive editor of The SportsDominion.