Both GW men’s and women’s soccer teams hosted preseason games on the new soccer field at Mount Vernon Campus last weekend. Less than a week after its unveiling, the field is forcing the teams to adjust to a faster game than their old grass home, South Riding Field in Virginia.
On a mostly sunny and hot Saturday afternoon, James Madison University defeated the men’s soccer team 2-0 in the team’s final preseason game.
About 200 people showed up for the team’s first game on the new field. About week of practice into the season, the Colonials played a particularly violent game.
GW men’s head coach George Lidster said playing on the field requires more control and better technique. Grass is the ideal surface for soccer, Lidster said, because it is soft and the ball does not roll away as easily. But on the new surface, called Soft Sport, the ball rolls like it would on a putting green.
“You’ve got to have good skill out here and quickness helps,” Lidster said after the team’s loss. “If you touch the ball a little bit too much, it’s going to roll away. As you saw, when there’s a bad trap, the ball keeps going. Whereas on grass, a bad trap will holdup.”
After about an hour into the game, three minor fights had broken out – two of which seemed to stem from the speed of the game. Senior midfielder Michael Goldman and a JMU player collided while charging for a mishandled ball heading for the sidelines. They exchanged pushes and words before continuing play.
Lidster said the field will naturally adjust the makeup of his team. He hopes to recruit faster players with greater control. He said some of his players, such as sophomore forward Fabio Andrade will become even faster on the field.
“I think the new field should help Fabio Andrade because he’s quick with a low center of gravity,” Lidster said. “I think he’ll be able to create havoc out there.”
The women’s soccer team faired better as they defeated Marymount University 8-0 Friday afternoon. Senior Angelica Caramanica, scored the first goal at Mount Vernon, led the Colonial’s with three goals.
GW women’s head coach Tanya Vogel said what she loves most about the field is the consistency it will bring. Vogel said the field can help her team because they can now practice and play on the same field.
“For the past six or seven years we’ve had a different place to play day to day,” Vogel said. Last season, both teams practiced where ever they could find field availability – sometimes by the reflecting pool, near the Lincoln Memorial, other times in the grass between 23rd Street and Constitution Avenue, which Lidster called a “horrible piece of land.”
Vogel said her team is fully adjusted to the new field. The women held their first practice August 18. Vogel said the field also brings an “air of legitimacy” to her team.
“It’s about having an identity around the campus. Everybody’s going to know where the women’s team plays,” she said.
Jason Holloway, a senior forward, said the men’s team is gradually adjusting to the field.
“It’s hard adjustment from grass. We’re trying to get all the kinks out,” he said. “The main thing is that, especially in preseason, we’ve been practicing and trying to outplay our opponents. Gradually, I think within the week, we’ve become more used to it. It’s feeling more and more like grass.”
Holloway said his team will benefit from the increased fan support. The Colonials last season were a top-Atlantic 10 Conference team and ended an eight-year absence from the A-10 Tournament. Despite winning games, the team rarely drew more than 200 fans to their field at South Riding. GW did not provide shuttle service to that field.
Jacklyn Becker, a junior who recently began dating junior midfielder Matthew Osborne, the team’s leading scorer last season, said she would not make the drive this year if games were being played at South Riding.
“Definitely not. I mean, the drive was 45 minutes and now we can take the shuttle,” she said.
Fans complained that bleacher seats had not been installed yet, requiring them to stand or sit on wood planks.
Much of the area surrounding the field remains under construction. Tony Vecchione, assistant athletic director for facilities, said construction of the new locker rooms is running slightly behind schedule because of recent inclement weather. He said the locker rooms, which include space for all GW home teams, visiting teams and officials, will be ready within a month.
Other incomplete additions to Mount Vernon include 12 tennis courts, a softball field, a pool and a parking lot.
On Sept. 4 the women’s soccer teams will host Howard University in the first regular season game at Mount Vernon. The men’s soccer team hosts its first regular season game at Mount Vernon Sept. 6 against the Virginia Military Institute.