The accomplishment of being an NCAA Division I conference champion does not come without difficulties. The GW men’s soccer team understands it faces challenges on the way to defending its conference title. The men’s soccer team has been slated to finish third in the Atlantic 10 this year after winning the crown during the 2004 season. St. Louis and Charlotte, two newcomers to the A-10, are picked to finish first and second, respectively, in a preseason poll.
“It’s always tough to defend a title because your team always has a bull’s eye on its back,” head coach George Lidster said.
The team opens its season Friday against American during the fifth annual D.C. College Cup. The tournament alternates between the AU and Georgetown campuses, with the 2005 tournament being held at North Kehoe Field on Hoya turf for Friday’s match and Reeves Field on Sunday against Howard University. The Colonials topped Howard in their last meeting but fell to American.
After finishing the 2004 season 10-9-4, many expect the team to have difficulty getting off to a strong start. Senior captains Ben Mortimer and Trevor Martin and junior Jeremiah Burke will miss the first game due to red cards filed during the team’s second-round loss to Virginia Commonwealth University in last year’s NCAA tournament.
The injured Burke and Mortimer are keys to a defense that posted seven shutouts during the 2004 season. Mortimer was honored by being named to the A-10 All-Championship Team, the D.C. College Cup All-Tournament Team and the NSCAA South Atlantic Region Third Team. He was also a first-team all-conference selection.
The team is a perennial late starter, as seen with its 1-9-3 record in the first 13 games last season.
“Our whole defense is decimated,” Lidster said. “We’ve also struggled to score. We cannot afford to start late this year.”
One of the Colonials’ strengths lies in its team unity and aggressive play, Lidster said.
“We have no outstanding superstars, but we’re working on finding a blend that fits to start the season,” Lidster added. “If we play to 100% of our team ability, we can beat anybody on the schedule.”
With the team’s strong point, its defense, removed for the opening of the season, finding the offensive prowess will be crucial. Lidster said the seniors are going to need to step up their play to counteract their hobbled defense.
This includes second-year captain Matt Miller, a mid-fielder who started each of the 22 games he appeared in last season, and goalkeeper Derek Bliss, who started 21 of 23 games. Bliss was named the A-10 Championship’s Most Outstanding Player after tying a tournament record with two shutouts, a third of his total for the year. Sophomores Matt Sheer and Greg Yahr will challenge Bliss for time in goal this season.
Sophomore defender Matt Davis will play an important role for the team. He was the only freshman to start every game last season and was named to the 2004 A-10 all-rookie team.
The Colonials will face 17 opponents in this year’s regular season, the final nine all A-10 teams.
Six of the 14 teams in the division will qualify for the A-10 Championship, which Lidster, who is beginning his 18th season as the head coach, cites as the team’s current goal for the season.
“Every game is going to be tough, no gimmies,” he said. The tournament is now especially difficult to make with the addition of St. Louis and Charlotte and the same number of available postseason berths.
Lidster will be joined on the coaching staff by Jake Ouimet, who has been named associate head coach after seven seasons as an assistant coach; volunteer coach Craig Jones, a GW graduate; and new goalkeeper coach Bryan Davis.