The latest title might be the sweetest for Virginia soccer coach Bruce Arena.
The Cavaliers won an unprecedented fourth straight NCAA men's championship, downing Indiana 1-0. It culminated a year in which some observers gave them little chance of keeping the string going, especially with the early departure of Claudio Reyna.Reyna, the Cavaliers' potent scorer in years past, left the team after last season to turn professional.
"If there's any doubt about it, it's over now, I guess," Arena said. "We've come out on top.
"It'll be interesting to read what kind of criticism we get out of this. I think we've answered all critics. We've heard a lot. We heard it from the beginning of year."
Skepticism dogged the Cavaliers from the beginning of the season, even up to Sunday's championship game against the Hoosiers. In addition to Reyna's absence, the Cavaliers were going into the final without Mike Fisher, the team's third-leading scorer, who received his third yellow card of the tournament in the semifinal victory over Rutgers and was disqualified from the championship game.
Arena found his replacements for both Reyna and Fisher and Virginia earned its fifth title, stretching its postseason unbeaten streak to 27 and its NCAA tournament unbeaten string to 24 games. Also, it was the fourth successive shutout for Virginia in the title game, another NCAA record.
"This is special because every time we win one, it's something that I think no one else will accomplish," Arena said. "We're a very greedy group of people here, and we want to keep this championship at Virginia."
The game's only goal came from someone who had had some of that criticism directed at him. A.J. Wood scored his first championship game goal after being denied in the previous three years.
It came soon enough in the action that Indiana had a chance to rally. That's where Arena's strategy came in.
"We decided that if we were going to get beat by Indiana, they were going to have to play hard for 90 minutes," Arena said. "We were going to close down their midfield players and see what kind of players they were.
"If they could beat us with our pressure and our tackling in the midfield, we would simply tip our hats at the end of the game and say `You were a better team,' " he said. "Today's game was one play - getting that goal and digging in and fighting for the rest of the game."
Indiana acknowledged that Virginia's plan paid dividends.
"Personally, I was surprised as how well they defended our midfield," said Hoosier Brandon Ward. "They did what they had to do. I didn't expect a Virginia team to play that kind of swarming defense, an anti-ball control type of defense."
Not even Sunday's championship came without a little cynicism. It was suggested to Arena that this title game featured a team that might actually be on Virginia's level and that it would mean more to beat the Hoosiers.
"I thought the last four were pretty good teams," Arena said.
"It's an honor to play a team like Indiana. It gives our championship win this year a lot more credibility," he said. "But I would have been happy to play anyone today and walk away with the championship."