Early in a season, losses can be as constructive and revealing as victories.
After dropping a 3-0 game to George Mason Thursday afternoon, the Colonials (2-1-0) had the chance to turn their weekend around Saturday with a win against Howard. And GW netted two timely and unanswered goals en route to victory, bringing the final score to 2-1.
“Going into [Sunday’s] game, we were looking for a response from the group, and I thought we started the game really well. We had a little courage again,” head coach Craig Jones said. “The guys responded to conceding a goal totally different than they responded on Thursday.”
The Colonials struggled mightily in their first D.C. College Cup game against the Patriots, giving up three goals before the clock struck 24 minutes. It was a blow GW failed to overcome with an offensive response, a failed effort that included just one Colonial shot on goal all game.
Although it was a poor performance all around for GW, the shutout loss at the hands of a local rival gave the Colonials the motivation they needed to take down fellow district rival, Howard, just two days later.
With redshirt freshman goalkeeper Jean-Pierre van der Merwe in net to start the match, Jones showed his willingness to put new pieces in play in an attempt to get a win. Though van der Merwe allowed a goal in the ninth minute, he remained solid from there on, assisted by the Colonials’ solid defensive play in the second half.
Jones said that with four keepers on GW’s roster, it is not definite who will secure the top spot in the net heading into conference play.
“We felt from the first half on Thursday that we should give J.P. some more minutes and even the start [on Sunday], if he wanted it,” Jones said. “There’s still a fight for that number one but again, it’s not like we’ve completely changed our mind about anything yet.”
Despite the solid defensive performance, it was GW’s attack that improved most Saturday. Six shots on net produced two goals, including a breakaway stinger from junior Tyler Ranalli in the 24th minute. Then in the 69th minute, junior Bailey Hinners sealed the deal with a rocket from 40 yards out that landed in the top right corner of Howard’s net.
Ranalli, who scored his first goal of the season during the thriller with LIU Brooklyn last Friday, has a pair of goals so far this season, topping his goal total in all previous seasons at GW.
It is the type of improvement that Jones is excited to see from one of his players.
“One of the things I wanted to see an improvement in was his ability to score goals. He’s now scored two in three games,” Jones said. “We knew he did a lot of work helping his team in other areas, but he didn’t have that goal-scoring touch. So that’s one of the highlights for me so far.”
Jones still sees room for many overall improvements to his team’s play, including his desire to push the team to a quicker playing pace. That ideal has the potential to separate the good teams from the dominant ones at any level of soccer.
“We’re getting closer and closer to where we need to be, but we think our overall speed of play with the ball – and even without the ball – could be better,” Jones said. “There are still moments in the games when we’re a little slow to adjust to things. We need to be moving the ball quicker, thinking quicker, organizing quicker. That will be our emphasis this week.”