The bruised attache case the Virginia Cavaliers lugged to last
weekend's NCAA men's soccer championships in Richmond was
stuffed with enough totems and talismans to make even Claude
Levi-Strauss envious. Amid the assorted room keys, press
credentials and origami charms was a fan letter from 1989, the
year the Cavaliers won their first national title, and the wrist
cast worn by forward Nate Friends when he scored all five of his
team's Final Four goals en route to another title in '93. But
the treasure most prized by the defending national champs was a
gold-painted jockstrap festooned with mug shots of players, and,
in the crotch, a strategically stapled ace of hearts.
"The Golden Jockstrap is what we're about," said coach Bruce
Arena, who ends every practice during the postseason by hanging
it in the locker of the day's hardest-working Cavalier. "It's a
reminder of what we need to do to be successful." Who could
argue? Since the jock was fetishized six years ago, Virginia
soccer jocks had won five national titles, the last four in a row.
Alas, the spell of the gilded garment was broken in last
Friday's semifinals when unbeaten Virginia was upended by
11th-ranked Duke, which in turn was upended by seventh-ranked
Wisconsin in Sunday's finale. So momentous was the collapse of
the Cavs' jockocracy that it overshadowed the remarkable title
run of the Badgers, who surrendered their last goal eight games
ago, on Oct. 29.
For what seems like forever, Arena futball has dominated the
college game. Full of changes of pace and lively movement, the
Cavalier approach stresses ball handling and slashing attacks by
all players, defenders included. The Blue Devils subverted it by
putting balls in the Cavaliers' 18-yard penalty box and creating
havoc. At the half they led 2-0. The Cavaliers didn't get on the
board until nine minutes into the second half. Sixteen minutes
later Duke freshman midfielder Jay Heaps emerged with the ball
from a tangle in front of Virginia's net and passed to defender
Craig Jeidy, who poked in a 17-yarder. "We had punished
ourselves enough by making two bad plays that had led to goals,"
Arena said afterward. "The third one killed us."
December 18, 1995
Heaps had scored the Blue Devils' first goal and set up their
second. Although he had been courted by the Cavaliers, Heaps was
never offered a scholarship, and he settled for Duke. "I did
want to go to Virginia," he says, "and it hurt my feelings a
little bit." The Cavs have been paying for the slight ever
since. On Oct. 22, with Duke down 3-1 in the last 1:35 of
overtime, Heaps scored twice to gain a tie. In the ACC
tournament's semifinals, he kept Duke from being shut out in a
4-1 Virginia victory. Asked on Friday how it felt to snap the
Cavs' 33-game unbeaten streak, Heaps was at a loss for words.
"It's like we know what we've done," he said at last, "but it'll
take a week to figure out how to say it."
In the small world of college soccer, Wisconsin seems as far
away as Addis Ababa. When Jim Launder became the Badger coach in
1982, the sport wasn't exactly a high priority; it was hardly
even in the athletic budget. As recently as 1991 he had to make
do with 2.2 scholarships. Of the 9.9 he has now, none was
offered to Jon Belskis, the 6'4", 215-pound fourth-year junior
who became the Badgers' goalie in the second round of this
year's playoffs when Todd Wilson dislocated his left elbow while
making a save against William and Mary.
For three years Karen and Wayne Belskis had driven from their
home in the Chicago suburbs to see their son play in Madison.
And until two months ago, he had not. Did Karen ever doubt Jon
was on the team? "No," she said. "I could see he was on the
bench." Jon's game experience was limited to garbage time in a
Sept. 29 rout of Northwestern. Still, he stepped in to shut down
William and Mary four minutes into overtime in Wisconsin's 1-0
overtime win, and to blank SMU 2-0 in the quarterfinals.
In Wisconsin's semifinal match with Portland, Belskis could have
minded the net from the sidelines. The Pilots got off just three
shots, only one of which even required a save. To be fair,
Portland was without its top scorer, sophomore forward Davide
Xausa--called Herman by his teammates. Herman insists he can't
play without his lucky shin guards. The NCAA insisted he
couldn't play, period: He had picked up his eighth yellow card
of the year in the quarterfinals and had to sit out the semis.
Xausa-less in Richmond, Portland lost 1-0.
In spite of a 33-degree temperature and 15-mph winds, Sunday's
championship match drew a sellout crowd of 21,319--a figure that
exceeded the combined attendance of Wisconsin's first 23 games
this season. The Blue Devils never warmed to the game. The
bigger, brawnier Badgers would not let them near the net. Two
goals scored off penalty box scrambles were all Wisconsin needed
to secure its record fifth shutout of the playoffs and its 17th
of the year. In 321 minutes of action, Belskis has not given up
As for Arena, after 295 victories, 15 consecutive NCAA
tournament appearances and five straight ACC titles, he is
taking a leave of absence to coach the national under-23 team,
the core of which will represent the U.S. at the '96 Olympics.
This month he is also expected to accept a job as coach of D.C.
United in Major League Soccer, the pro outdoor league that will
kick off in April, with a season that extends until late
September. Most insiders say if Arena takes that position, his
leave from Virginia will become permanent.
Despite--or perhaps because of--his success over the years, Arena
has had few fans among college coaches or the muck-a-mucks at
the U.S. Soccer Federation. This son of a Brooklyn butcher is
considered a little too imperious and a little too outspoken by
his colleagues, and a lot too critical by the federation
honchos, who passed over him for the Olympic job in 1994. "Bruce
can't tolerate incompetence," says Virginia assistant coach
George Gelnovatch. "And he always speaks his mind."
Here's what was on it last week: "The federation's decision
makers had seen other American coaches fall on their faces, and
didn't want to hire another one. But those decision makers don't
know anything about soccer." Nevertheless when the Olympic team
post became vacant three months ago, those same decision makers
threw Arena into their hat. "If I fall on my face, I'm a dope
and so are they," he says flatly. "If I experience some success,
we're all geniuses."
At next year's Summer Games, teams will be allowed three players
over the age of 23. Arena's pool of potential Olympians includes
many past and present Cavaliers, including two-time World Cup
midfielder John Harkes, who plays for West Ham in England's
Premier League, and midfielder Claudio Reyna of Bayer Leverkusen
of the German Bundesliga. But patronage is not in Arena's plans.
"I'm not interested in having a Virginia Alumni Day," he says.
"We're going into the Olympics as underdogs. I can't field 11
friends. I've got to have 11 players. We're playing for keeps."
Whether he takes Cavs or Cav-nots to Atlanta, Arena will likely
leave the Golden Jockstrap in Charlottesville. Even after the
loss to Duke, it hasn't lost its luster. "I don't blame the jock
for the defeat," Gelnovatch says. "It's not like we look at that
thing and pray to it. Why make it bigger than it already is?"
For the record, it's an extra large.