VCU’s 4-1 win over 2011 National Runner-Up Charlotte Friday is sure to turn a few heads.

RICHMOND, Va. – Shortly after his team celebrated on the pitch in one cheering, chanting, dancing huddled mass, flanked on one side by the VCU Pep Band, horns blaring, and a crowd of students on the other, VCU Soccer Coach Dave Giffard aimed to be a voice of reason.

“It’s a good win and a good result for us,” the Rams’ third-year coach said flatly. “I think what it means to the team is we won the first game in the conference.”

Given the decisiveness VCU’s 4-1 victory Friday night over 13th-ranked Charlotte, the National Runner-Up in 2011, and the emotion that spilled onto the field following the match, could this triumph possibly be distilled into the “just another conference win” category? Charlotte (6-2-2, 0-1 A-10) had lost just once this season and returned the bulk of its College Cup squad from 2011.

Four different players scored goals for the Rams (5-1-3, 1-0 A-10), who attacked the lower third of the field efficiently and aggressively. In the process, VCU earned its first win over a ranked team since 2006 and dealt Charlotte its worst loss in three years.

Under Giffard, VCU has been on a slow and steady ascent, but while the rebuilding project has been successful on many levels, it lacked a signature moment. It has one now. If this was a litmus test of the Rams’ viability as an A-10 contender and potential top-25 program, they’ve got to feel good about the results.

Of course, only months (or years) from now, when we have the benefit of hindsight, will we know whether Friday’s win was a turning point or fleeting greatness. But at a minimum, the victory serves notice to the rest of the conference that the Rams are a force to be reckoned with. The reality could be much more appetizing.

Charlotte’s climb to national prominence a year ago isn’t that dissimilar from that of the Akron program Giffard helped reach the national championship match in 2009 as an assistant. Friday’s win further serves to bridge the psychological gap between VCU and some of the country’s best programs.

VCU hasn’t reached the NCAA Tournament since 2004, but a 5-1-3 start, including Friday’s win over No. 13 Charlotte, could help the Rams return to the national scene.

“We’ve been talking about this ever since I got here,” said sophomore Devon Fisher, who scored the go-ahead goal for VCU in the 42nd minute. “Freshman year coach was saying it. It’s only a matter of time before it happens.”

“Against Virginia we knew we should’ve beaten them, and getting wins like these against top 15 teams in the country gives us the confidence really that we can beat any one team,” said junior Garrett Harvey, who also scored a goal in the win. “It’s actually on paper, not just us on the field in practice, knowing we’re one of the best teams. Beating one of the best teams in the country definitely gives us that confidence to springboard us to go through it.”

 

It’s understandable that Giffard would be cautious at this juncture. VCU is nine games into its season, and it’s his job manage the emotional temperature of the team. But his policing of excitement shouldn’t be confused with the dampening of expectations. Giffard has spoken openly about desire to chase national championships, and this win only assures him that this group of players has the ability to reach that end.

“We had a very, very good spring schedule and challenged ourselves against the best teams we could play,” Giffard said. “I think the guys came into the season thinking we belong in the mix for the national championship and we’re fighting to get there.”

Whether the Rams are on the doorstep of greatness or miles away, they took a giant leap forward Friday.

 “I don’t think you put too much into one game and one result, just like on the other side you don’t put too much into one loss or one tie,” Giffard said. “I think what’s more important is the process, and the process, what our guys are doing, is taking it one step at a time.”

But even Giffard would have to admit, some steps are bigger than others.

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