There's another football camp happening right now, as the Virginia men's soccer team reported to Charlottesville to get back to work. Preseason rankings came out earlier this week, in which the Cavaliers received votes but just missed the Top 25. To preview the season, we asked Alecko Eskandarian, former Cavalier standout, No. 1 overall pick in the MLS Draft and 2004 MLS Cup MVP, to give us his take on the Wahoos this year.
Streaking the Lawn: As you know, the team reported to camp this week. What went through your mind when you were heading back to UVA and getting back into the swing of things? What was a typical day in camp like?
Alecko Eskandarian: The team goal every year at UVA is to win the ACC and national championship. Individually, every year was very different for me in terms of my mindset and internal goals when I reported to preseason. My freshman year, I was just eager to prove myself and simply make the team. My sophomore year I wanted to be more consistent and to establish myself as the best forward in the ACC. And my junior year I wanted to be more of a leader and the best player in the country. Obviously, I didn't have a senior year but I imagine as a senior it would be all about leadership and leaving behind a legacy for the youngsters to follow.
STL: Virginia only lost five of its starters last year in Brian Ownby, Mike Volk, Hunter Jumper, Cobi Span and Greg Monaco, which means the Hoos have just six starters returning. Who would you say the key playmakers of the game are for Virginia this year? Who will the team need to rely on most heavily?
Alecko: Well, those guys are 5 key starters that they lost so they won't be easily replaced, especially at the center back positions. However, I know some of the freshmen that are coming in and they have a lot of quality to challenge for starting positions. On the attacking side, the burden will fall on senior forward Will Bates. He was tearing it up last year before his season-ending knee injury so he will look to build off of that success. In order for him to be successful, he will need the players around him to step up as playmakers. I really liked what I saw out of Eric Bird last season, Ari Dimas will be a solid contributor as always, and I know incoming freshman Darius Madison can be a weapon on the offensive side as well.
STL: The seniors on this year's team won a national championship their freshmen year. What are these guys, and the coaches, saying to motivate the underclassmen as the season approaches?
Alecko: The seniors will need to lead by example, and the underclassmen will need to follow. Sometimes you have seniors who play the part and say the right things in meetings, but don't necessarily lead by example. This year's upperclassmen will have the responsibility of stepping up and setting a standard for the younger guys to follow and uphold throughout their tenure at UVA. I have no doubt that all the coaches on staff will do their part in giving the team every opportunity to succeed.
STL: If Virginia has a weakness this year, what is it? And what would you call Virginia's greatest strength?
Alecko: I think it's a bit silly to talk about weaknesses and strengths in college soccer because most of these kids are still developing. A weakness on a team is a simply an opportunity for someone to step up and claim a spot, then it can very easily turn into a strength. Obviously the most important thing on everyone's mind is to get back to being a national championship contender.
STL: The Cavs always play a tough schedule. This year's schedule features five teams in the preseason Top 25 (including the top two in North Carolina and UCLA) and four more receiving votes. How do you see Virginia's road to the College Cup shaping out, and at the end of the season, will the Hoos be ranked in the Top 25?
Alecko: I absolutely believe the Hoos will be in the Top 25, and can very easily make their way into the Top 10 as a result of their strength of schedule. The great thing about playing at UVA and in the ACC is that you're going to be constantly testing yourself against the best teams in the country. It actually ends up becoming misleading sometimes because a team can use a loss against one of those top teams as a stepping stone to becoming a better team in the long run, but obviously they will slip in the rankings. It's all about maintaining balance and making sure the curve is on the up end heading into the ACC's and NCAA's.
Alecko will be paying the Cavaliers a visit next week to impart his wisdom and teach the boys to become men. We'll check back in after his visit to see what his predictions are for this year's squad.
"Until then," Alecko told us, "I just pray that they all stay healthy, work hard in the classroom, and represent UVA on the field in a manner that all the great players and alumni that came before them will be proud."