Virginia nets unprecedented third straight title, with help of Reyna, Friends

December 06, 1993|By Alex Yannis | Alex Yannis,New York Times News Service

DAVIDSON, N.C. -- With Claudio Reyna leading the way moments after the final whistle yesterday, the Virginia Cavaliers started a victory march around Richardson Field.

The Cavaliers raised their arms in triumph, some pointing upward with their index fingers, signifying perhaps that the sky is the limit for them when it comes to soccer.

And perhaps it is.

Yesterday, in the bright sunshine at Davidson College, the Cavaliers beat South Carolina, 2-0, to capture their third consecutive NCAA championship. It was something no other team had done in the history of the tournament, which began in 1959.

"Naturally, we're quite excited," said coach Bruce Arena, who is in his 16th year with the Cavaliers. "It was a challenge and the kids responded and made history."

Along with Reyna, the junior midfielder from Springfield, N.J., who dazzled with his limitless passing skills and extraordinary vision, Nate Friends, the junior striker, was the man of the tournament for the Cavaliers.

Friends scored all three goals in Virginia's 3-1 elimination of Princeton in the semifinals and scored both goals in yesterday's triumph before a sellout crowd of 10,549.

Still, Reyna was again the focus of attention because this was probably his last collegiate game.

Like John Harkes and Tony Meola, two Cavaliers who left school in their junior year and then played for the U.S. World Cup team in 1990 in Italy, Reyna is hoping to play for the United States in the 1994 World Cup next summer.

"This was probably my last game and I didn't want to leave on a sour note," Reyna said. "When I came in, I was hoping for one championship and I'm going out with three."

Reyna was a heavily recruited player when he was a senior at St. Benedict's Academy in Newark. Last season, he had offers to play for Barcelona in Spain where he could end up next month if, by some chance, he doesn't make the U.S. team.

"It's the best I've seen him play," Timo Liekoski, the assistant to U.S. World Cup coach Bora Milutinovic, said of Reyna's performance in the tournament. "He has the tools to play anywhere."

"I didn't want to make the tournament a tryout," said Reyna, who was clearly aware that he was under scrutiny. "I don't think I played my best."

While Reyna operates mostly from deep in the midfield, Friends showed in the tournament that he can be a devastating finisher, a breed that is so rare anywhere in soccer these days, but particularly in the United States.

Playing with a cast on his lower-left arm because of a broken wrist, Friends, who is from Washington, became the biggest headache for the Princeton and South Carolina defenders.

Friends scored the only goal the Cavaliers needed yesterday afternoon on a header with 5:06 left before intermission. His second goal, sealing the outcome, came with 5:01 left in the game.

On his first goal, Friends outjumped Greg King to convert Mike Fisher's corner kick from the left side. On his second goal, he stepped into a space 6 yards from the goal and volleyed Fisher's free kick, again from the left.

"South Carolina had all 10 players back on corner kicks," Arena said. "It was amazing we were able to get a goal off of that."

During the regular season, Friends scored seven goals, which made his output in Virginia's final two games of the tournament even more remarkable.

Arena said the Cavaliers had an attache case filled with championship mementos and that Friends' cast will find a new home there. Arena then drew a laugh when he implied that Friends would follow in Reyna's steps and turn professional, a development not considered likely.

And then Arena turned serious. "It was a blue-collar game," he said, referring to the hard work the Cavs (22-3) had to put in to overcome the Gamecocks (16-4-4), making their first championship appearance.

Hard work, and three titles, which isn't a bad combination.

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