The GW men’s soccer team is not expecting the 2003 season to be a rebuilding campaign, despite losing five seniors from last year’s NCAA Tournament squad.
Senior captains Fabio Andrade and Justin Evans said the 2003 Colonials have a good chance to advance even further in the NCAA Tournament than last season, when they lost to cross-town rival American in the first round.
Evans said having a young team does not scare him, especially considering the Atlantic 10 Tournament will expand from four to six teams this season.
“We were the fourth seed last year and we won it all,” he said. “If we can get into the A-10 Tournament, anything can happen.”
But the loss of last year’s team leaders, namely Matt Osborne (team-high 19 goals and 11 assists in 2002) still leaves a long road ahead for the Colonials. Osborne graduated as the second-leading scorer in school history with 110 points and was named 2002 Verizon Academic All-American of the Year in men’s soccer.
Osborne’s talent and leadership abilities cannot be replaced, but Andrade and Evans said they will look for a complete team effort to fill the void. The captains also said it will not be easy at first with so many young players but they see success in the near future.
“If you lose four starters you suffer no matter what,” Evans said. “You bring in six freshmen, there are going to be growing pains. But we know we’re a good team, we just need to put it all together.”
Andrade said he sees a group of players collectively filling in for Osborne.
“I think we have five players who can score five or six goals,” he said.
While Osborne will not be directing the offense anymore, Andrade said the team’s success still hinges on midfield play.
Sophomore Steve Brown anchors that area. As a freshman last season, Brown was fourth on the team in points with 12 while starting all 22 games for the Colonials.
“Steve Brown stepped up last year and he needs to step it up another level this year,” Andrade said. “He’s key factor on our team this year.”
Freshmen also appear to be in the mix this year. Because of the program’s recent success, the captains said GW has been able to attract better recruits than in years past.
Andrade and Evans singled out rookie midfielder Jeremiah Burke as a player who will help the team offensively. Burke has already made an impression on GW soccer fans, dazzling the crowd with a leaping bicycle kick attempt during last Sunday’s loss to Howard.
“(Burke) has been able to adjust to the college level quickly,” Andrade said.
In goal, the Colonials return both keepers from last year. Senior Eric Lund will probably get most of the playing time after putting up a 1.04 goals against average last season, while sophomore Derek Biss will serve as Lund’s backup.
The most important player to this year’s success may be senior Arnar Johannsson, a naturally talented forward with a penchant for scoring. The Icelandian import netted 18 goals last year and was recently named to the preseason A-10 Second Team.
However, Johannsson played poorly in the team’s first two games, both of which were losses at the D.C. Cup. He appeared sluggish, and head coach George Lidster went as far as mentioning Johannsson’s lack of off-season training after an Aug. 31 loss to Howard.
According to his teammates, Johannsson is still recovering from a leg injury he suffered in the spring season and is not yet at full strength.
“I’m sure it’s hard for him coming off an injury,” Andrade said. “It’s frustrating, but I hope to see the old Arnar soon.”
The old Arnar did show up on Saturday, scoring two goals as GW beat Radford University, 4-2 (see story to left). The Colonials will hope he can keep up the strong play and lead them to another A-10 Championship.
But the regular season will provide several tests before GW can advance to the postseason. The Colonials will meet Richmond in the regular season finale on Nov. 8 in a rematch of last year’s A-10 Tournament final, a game GW squeaked out 3-2.