Apologies to those soccer fans who are already experts, as the following insights come from a VCU fan just venturing into your world. If you can stick with me on the learning curve you may enjoy a few moments, and feel free to share some of your wisdom since this is your realm. All fans begin their journey somewhere and for this one it starts in the stands of Sports Backers Stadium on August 29, 2014 at the men’s season opener against Farleigh Dickinson.
Much like entering the Siegel Center for the first time walking through the gates at Sports Backers Stadium comes with the realization that this is a home away from home for student- athletes and their fans. This is the epicenter of a fan community. The moments that happen upon this field and the memories that are made are what define the fan experience.
You can attribute some of the growing interest in the soccer program to the insanity of World Cup fever this summer. The remaining was inevitable due to the continued growth in popularity of VCU and the success of the men’s basketball program. It was just a matter of time before fans began crossing over, especially since they outnumber the seats available in that other venue.
There were a few recognizable attributes for my first game day – players warming up and going through pre-game rituals, returning fans greeting each other and catching up, newcomers trying to figure out where to go, and the Peppas in the stands doing what they do best – pumping up the crowd. The best thing about any live game is the atmosphere. There’s a unique energy that comes with anticipation of the event, the excitement of being part of the action as it plays out on the field, and the dramatic moments that cause fans to cheer or jump to their feet.
A unique aspect of soccer is that heads aren’t just for designing strategies. They are tools for execution of the strategy and redirection of the ball. The Rams apparently have been practicing this one a lot in the offseason. It’s not only very effective, but also quite entertaining. Following the bouncing ball requires a lot of awareness from the sidelines as a kick provides much more distance than a throw (evidenced by a rogue trip into the parking lot for one ball and into the stands for another). Observer note – the VCU goalie has super powered kicking ability. At one point his kick almost made it the entire length of the field!
The guys that have the best foot work almost looked like they were dancing. There were moments where keeping the ball from the opposition looked like a perfectly choreographed performance, impressive in balance, control, and maneuvering. VCU also did a pretty good job of playing keep away from Farleigh Dickinson. Periodically they would keep the ball moving near their goal to draw the Knights forward and weaken their defensive stance.
Confirmation that Farleigh Dickinson wasn’t using much of an offensive strategy was #21 Zachary Newton. The FDU play was at least consistent. When Newton had an opportunity he’d kick towards the VCU goal from as far back as possible. This may have been more effective if he attempted directing to a teammate positioned with any chance of putting it in the goal, but it’s early in the season and team dynamics don’t develop overnight.
One of the most enjoyable aspects of college athletics is the pure joy exhibited by student-athletes who get to play a game that they love. The men’s soccer team was exemplary in this space. They exhibited great team dynamics on the field and performed as a cohesive unit. Their aggressive offense and high intensity play was very engaging, even for those who aren’t seasoned fans.
Long after games are over and players have left the field, all that remains is how you feel and the connection you have to the program. Following the game as the players filed out of the stadium they had the smiles of contentment that accompany victory. After 90 minutes of play, they did something that can truly make a difference. They took a moment to interact and show appreciation to the Peppas and the fans lingering in the stands, thanking individuals for coming out to support the team. These are the kind of players that inspire fans to follow…perhaps a new generation of Rams on the Road will find their inspiration here.