WVU men’s soccer kicks off its 2022 season on Thursday when it hosts Robert Morris at Dick Dlesk Soccer Stadium. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. ET on ESPN+.
Stratford’s unranked squad opened the 2021 season with a 2-0 victory at the Colonials’ North Athletic Complex. This season’s opener is much different with a new venue and some higher stakes, as the sixth-ranked Mountaineers host the Colonials in Morgantown.
WVU’s gaffer expects his team to have a tough test on Thursday.
“They get to kick off the season against the preseason No. 6 team in the country, and if they can’t get up for that, then I don’t know what they can get up for,” Stratford said.
Stratford is putting just as much on the line for his team as this point in 2021 was the beginning of his team’s catapult to the national conversation. This time, WVU’s goal isn’t just to crack the rankings.
In 2022, the Mountaineers want to make it to the top.
“The message will be that at this time last year, we were two weeks away from being the No. 5 team in the country,” Stratford said. “This year, we’re two weeks potentially from being the No. 1 team in the country.”
West Virginia’s returned eight starters from the previous season, but two position battles will resolve ahead of the opener: central defender and goalkeeper. WVU had a four-horse race for the goalie position at the start of the preseason, but Stratford indicated transfer Jackson Lee will be in goal against Robert Morris.
“I think that’s arguably our deepest position and the hardest one to manage because traditionally speaking, only one of them plays and we have four very capable goalkeepers,” Stratford said.
Stratford noted some “pleasant surprises” for that third center-back position, including freshman Noah Gold and sophomore Kyle Lehnert. He again touted his team’s depth at that spot but stopped short of naming a starter.
Looming on the other end of the opener is a road test against No. 7 Pitt on Monday, a reverse fixture of one of WVU’s biggest victories that pushed them into the top five in 2021. While that may be a shiny look on the calendar, Stratford has his eyes on just one opponent: Robert Morris.
“Right now, that’s the biggest game of the season for us,” Stratford said. “We can’t overlook what needs to be a really important game.”
Robert Morris at No. 6 WVU men’s soccer game information
- Date: Aug. 25, 2022
- Time: 7 p.m. ET
- Location: Dick Dlesk Soccer Stadium in Morgantown, West Virginia
- Stream: ESPN+
- Radio: U92 FM
- Series history: West Virginia leads 14-6
- Last meeting: WVU 2-0 RMU in Moon Township, Pennsylvania