BLACKSBURG — The Virginia Tech men’s soccer team made the NCAA tournament last year, but the Hokies no longer boast the two best players on that squad.
The Hokies enter this season without the talents of Marcelo Acuna, who led the team in scoring the past two seasons, and Ben Lundgaard, who ranks third in Tech history with 312 career saves. Both made the All-ACC first team as seniors last season.
“It’ll be difficult to replace [them],” said Virginia Tech coach Mike Brizendine, whose team lost in the second round of the NCAAs last year.
Lundgaard recorded 108 saves and six shutouts last year, when he ranked seventh nationally with an average of 5.4 saves. The goalkeeper was chosen by Columbus in the first round of the Major League Soccer draft last January, becoming the first Hokie in 10 years to go in the first round. Columbus has loaned him to a team in the United Soccer League.
His successor is Mathijs Swaneveld, a 6-foot-4 import from the Netherlands. He attended a university in Rotterdam last year but has four years of U.S. college eligibility.
“He’s a big boy,” Brizendine said. “He has a good upside.”
Is the prospect of having a freshman in goal giving Brizendine grey hairs?
“This whole team’s going to give me grey hairs,” he said with a laugh. “We’re going to take our lumps, there’s no doubt.”
Even with Lundgaard minding the net, the Hokies ranked last in the league in goals allowed (34) last season.
“Our defense will be better,” Brizendine said. “The goalkeeper that we have in there is pretty good. Our back line is pretty steady.”
Acuna scored 11 goals and earned third-team All-America honors in 2016, when the Hokies reached the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament. The forward scored 12 goals last season, when he tied for seventh nationally with five game-winning goals.
Acuna scored half of Tech’s goals last year. The Hokies will score more by committee this year.
“We may not have that one star like Marcelo to do everything, but I feel like we have a lot of surrounding pieces that can all attack and find the goal,” forward Nico Quashie said.
The Hokies will also miss midfielder Collin Verfurth, who ranked second on the team in goals (four) as a senior; defender Elias Tamburini, who had a team-high five assists as a senior and who is now playing professionally in Iceland; defender Rodrigo Zampieri, who has joined IUPUI as a graduate transfer; forward Gino Rossi, who has joined Albany as a graduate transfer; and midfielder Forrest White.
Tech, which has been picked last in the Coastal Division in the ACC’s preseason coaches poll, went 3-0 in its preseason scrimmages this month.
“We’ve had some results that … lead us to believe that we can win games with this group,” Brizendine said. “But replacing so many [players] just brings up some questions.”
Tech will play its first six games away from home. The Hokies will open Friday against Air Force in James Madison’s tournament. Tech beat Air Force 2-0 in the first round of the NCAAs last year.
The Hokies will visit Virginia, which is ranked No. 15 in the national preseason coaches poll, in their ACC opener on Sept. 7. Other highlights of the league schedule include home games with No. 5 Wake Forest and No. 10 Duke and visits to No. 3 North Carolina and No. 17 Notre Dame.
The Hokies went 10-10 overall and 3-5 in the ACC last season, when they had to deal with both injuries and a difficult schedule.
Brizendine has five returning starters at his disposal. That does not include Justus Kauppinen, who suffered a torn ACL in a scrimmage this month.
Forward Arion Sobers-Assue, a graduate transfer from Florida Gulf Coast, and midfielder Rory Slevin are the only seniors on the squad.
“This whole summer, I thought it would be a rebuilding year, and I was kind of upset about that,” Slevin said. “But I’ve been really pleased to see how mature this group is already, … [so] I don’t think this will be a rebuilding year.”
Slevin had three assists last year before injuring his knee last October.
Quashie returns after sitting out last season with a torn hamstring. As a freshman in 2016, he scored two game-winning goals in the NCAAs.
Two of the returning starters are Kristo Strickler, who had three goals last year, and Brendan Moyers (one goal and one assist). Brizendine said this could be a “breakout year” for Moyers.
The Hokies ranked ninth in the 12-team ACC in goals (24) last year but hope to hurt foes with their speed this year.
“We’re trying new formations out,” Quashie said. “Marcelo … wasn’t very fast. He was very effective, but guys like me and Kristo and [freshman] Khalil [Dover], we’re all runners. We play a lot different than Marcelo.”