George Gelnovatch has spent two decades scouting Louisville’s starting goalkeeper.
When the No. 1 Virginia men’s soccer team hosts the Cardinals on Friday night, Gelnovatch’s squad welcomes his son Jake back to Charlottesville. After years of helping raise Jake and teaching him how to play soccer, George finds himself standing on the opposite sideline.
“We know his strengths and weaknesses well,” George joked. “We’ll be ready for him.”
The two squared off once before, when Virginia and Louisville met in the 2017 ACC Tournament quarterfinals. UVa prevailed in a shootout, but both teams played to a 0-0 tie prior to the penalty kick portion of the match.
Jake Gelnovatch pitched a shutout then, and he’s playing even better now. The junior, who played at Albemarle and was part of the Patriots’ 2016 state championship team, holds the best goals against average and save percentage of his collegiate career through nine games. He’s one of the better goalkeepers in the ACC and was named to last season’s ACC Championship all-tournament team.
“I think he’s done very well,” George said. “What he does for the team we have to be aware of.”
George watches all of his son’s matches, as the ACC requires that each school share their game footage with other conference programs. While he’s not always able to watch the games live because of Virginia’s schedule, he makes a point to watch Jake compete at his earliest convenience.
Even with his decades of coaching experience, George doesn’t watch the games analytically.
He turns off the soccer coach portion of his brain and becomes a proud dad.
“I watch as a father first,” George said. “It’s funny because in preparation for this game, my staff was saying to me, ‘Boy, you must know Louisville pretty well.’ And then I think to myself, ‘Yeah, I do, but I was watching more as a father than a coach.’”
He speaks with his son frequently over text, but they don’t talk too much about soccer this week as both sides prepare for the match.
Players are aware of the interesting position their coach is in, but they aren’t overly concerned with the opponent on the other end. They’re aware of Jake’s presence, but playing the coach’s son isn’t the focus within the locker room.
“I’m hoping he doesn’t tell him where I go on penalties,” Joe Bell laughed. “I know Jake. He’s been around a bit. We’ve hung around in the summer, and he’s a great guy. I think it’s going to be a good game, but yeah, it doesn’t really change anything.”
George tackles this game’s preparation like any other ACC contest. The team went through its typical scouting practice on Thursday morning, and they’re treating Friday’s match like business as usual.
With the No. 1 ranking now attached to the program, the pressure the rest of the way intensifies.
Virginia faces five ACC matches before the ACC Tournament, and it’ll host two nonconference games in that span as well. JMU, which has won eight consecutive matches, comes to Charlottesville on Oct. 15, and a competitive Saint Louis squad visits town on Oct. 22. Luckily for the Cavaliers, they’ll get a minor break from the ACC grind next week as they don’t have a midweek match.
“We just need to keep pedaling through this one, as do a lot of other ACC teams, and then see if we can get a little bit of a reprieve next week,” Gelnovatch said.
Reaching that reprieve won’t be easy. Friday’s match poses a physical and mental test for the Cavaliers. Louisville enters the match 5-2-2 and it’s a perfect 3-0 against ranked opponents, including a recent 1-0 victory over Georgetown when the Hoyas were ranked at No. 2. This Louisville showdown also brings an emotional element for Gelnovatch as he faces his son for just the second time.
For the players, Friday is all about obtaining a 10-0 record and moving to next week.
“I don’t really care who we play,” Robin Afamefuna said. “At the end of the day I want to win. If he’s his son, if he concedes 15 goals, I don’t really care. At the end of the day we have to win. If we can get a couple of goals past him, that’s even better.”