The Lehigh men’s soccer team will take a break from league play and travel to Charlottesville to battle nationally-ranked University of Virginia on Tuesday.
Virginia, which plays in the Atlantic Coastal Conference, is ranked fourth in ratings percentage index (RPI), and will pose as a challenge for Lehigh as the team prepares for its final seven games of the season, five of which are conference opponents.
“All around, we are pretty confident that while (Virginia) may be an ACC team being nationally ranked, that we can match up with them on almost all fronts,” senior forward Doyle Tuvesson said. “We believe it will come down to the work rate, and we have confidence in the offense and defense that we can get a result down there.”
The Cavaliers already took down multiple opponents seeded higher than them, including their largest opponent, the University of North Carolina. UNC is a fellow ACC opponent and ranks second in the country. The school’s only loss was at the hands of Virginia.
Lehigh has played its fair share of big games as well. On Sept. 23, Lehigh hosted No. 19 Army West Point and took the team down with a 1-0 victory.
“We played very well (against Army), limited mistakes in the back, a clean sheet and no goals allowed,” junior forward Mark Forrest said. “If we can go into Virginia and play well defensively, the longer we stay in the game, the bigger the opportunity we can get a win.”
Lehigh will challenge Virginia with a defensive unit led by sophomore goalie Will Smith, who has already recieved two Patriot League Player of the Week awards.
“(Smith’s) a great goalie,” senior Kevin Klinklengerg said. “He talks a lot, communicates well, organizes the defense and he’ll make big saves when you need him to. It’s great having him back there.”
Virginia will test Lehigh’s defense, as the Cavaliers are one of the top-scoring teams in the country, outscoring their opponents by an 11-point margin on the season.
The Mountain Hawks are anticipating a game in which Virginia will hold a majority of the possession, and the team plans to counter that by dropping more guys back on the defensive and taking advantage of counter attacks.
“We are definitely going to bring some more numbers back to account for (Virginia’s) strong attacking threat,” Forrest said. “Which usually means I drop back a little more and Doyle (Tuvesson) stays higher, and it means a little more running and more work, but it will be needed, I think.”
For Lehigh, the task of taking on Virginia will help the team gauge how prepared it is for the approaching Patriot League playoffs. In the event of a win, Lehigh’s chances of receiving an at-large bid for the NCAA tournament will greatly increase, as the victory would add Lehigh’s second win against a top-ranked team to its resume.
Virginia’s roster packs a lineup of both domestic and international players. Three of the Cavaliers’ top five point scorers have ties to overseas locations, highlighted by freshman Faris Abdi, who was recently named as a reserve for the Saudi Arabia national soccer team.
Lehigh will bring power to Charlottesville in the form of Forrest and Tuvesson. Both players are ranked top three in the conference for points scored, and they will have to continue to improve on offense in order to capture the upset against Virginia.
“Our strengths are definitely our forwards,” Klinkenberg said. “If we get the ball to (Forrest) and (Tuvesson) they can definitely create stuff. They’re two of the most dangerous players in our conference and they’re great players.”
Following the matchup against Virginia, Lehigh will take on rival Lafayette on Oct. 14, followed by four more conference opponents before the Patriot League playoffs kickoff on Nov. 7.