For the past two seasons, the GW men’s soccer team has had the luxury of having one of the best offensive players in the country in forward Andy Stadler.
In 2008, Stadler was second in the Atlantic 10 in goals scored and was an All-Conference First-Team selection. As a senior in 2009, Stadler averaged one goal per game and was a candidate for the Hermann Trophy, the award given annually to the nation’s top collegiate soccer player.
This year Stadler, along with the nine other seniors from last season no longer suiting up for the Colonials, is gone, putting GW in the midst of a youth movement as it attempts to qualify for the A-10 Tournament for the first time since 2004.
The solution, GW head coach George Lidster said, will be a new offensive strategy to go with his new-look team.
“I think we’re gonna show some different formations from last year, because before with a big senior class, the players knew each other, they knew how to get the ball to Andy, and more or less we got the ball to him, [we had a] good chance of scoring goals,” Lidster said. “Now, I think everybody’s gonna be involved. We’re going to play a possession-style game and I think the goals will be spread out this year.”
With 11 new freshmen in the fold for 2010, Lidster said practices this summer have changed focus as well. In recent years, summer workouts focused more on individual skills than team strategy. This summer, Lidster said, training has been dedicated largely to teaching new formations and tactics to a team learning to play together.
“It’s gonna take awhile for us all to get on the same page, to get us all playing the same style, know each other,” Lidster said. “A lot of these freshmen are going to have to contribute straight away.”
But even with Stadler out of the picture, the cupboard is far from bare for the Colonials. Back for 2010 are junior Yoni Berhanu and sophomore Seth Rudolph, both of whom were named to A-10 All-Rookie squads after their freshman years. Berhanu led the team in assists last season with six, and both he and Rudolph scored four goals in 2009, good enough for second on the team behind Stadler.
In the absence of a single dominant scorer, Berhanu said he hoped he and Rudolph would be able to feed off of each other on offense and press opposing defenders into difficult situations.
“I feel like it helps me that Seth came in in such great shape, and he’s doing so well and he’s such a great athlete that it complements me and we can work together up top and take some pressure off our defense,” he said. “We definitely, the two of us, have to do a lot to try and do what we can to add to the offensive force this year.”
Rudolph agreed he and Berhanu would be up to the task, adding that the freshmen would also play a role in GW’s offensive scheme this season.
“We plan on stepping on and getting the goals that Stadler had, but we think that new members of the team will contribute, too,” he said. “I think we’ll fill in nicely, where there won’t be too much pressure.”
It is the pressure that most concerns Lidster, who said he will try to minimize comparisons to Stadler as the offense adapts to life without him. The footsteps in which to follow are too big, and the consequences for Berhanu and Rudolph, should they try to single-handedly attempt to replicate the former Colonial’s offensive prowess, could be disastrous.
“The big thing is not to put pressure on them, not to even mention Andy Stadler, even though he was a great player for us,” Lidster said. “If they put pressure on themselves, they’re not gonna perform.”
The two seem to be handling it well though, Lidster insists, and there is reason to be optimistic that the pairing will be a good one.
“Already both of them are blossoming, they’re showing great creativity,” he said. “Both of them are gonna have tremendous seasons.”