Senior co-captain Tyler Ranalli stood at the midfield line waiting to kickoff the ball after Robert Morris had taken a 2-1 lead in Saturday’s matchup. But along with losing the lead, the Colonials lost their tempers, as Ranalli shoved an opposing player who walked by him.
The frustration underlined just how rough the latest stretch has been for the Colonials, who capped off their four-game losing streak with that unimpressive 2-1 loss to RMU.
GW (3-6) will look to break that streak as they head into conference play Friday, but it won’t come easy. The team’s overall record ranks ninth out of 12 teams in the Atlantic-10, and they will begin conference play on the road against the Nos. 1 and 2 teams in the conference.
The Colonials take a trip to face undefeated Dayton, whose overall record puts them atop the A-10 standings, and then take on defending-conference champion Saint Louis.
“It’s probably the toughest start I can remember for us,” head coach Craig Jones said.
Dayton (10-0) is currently ranked No. 18 in the nation and averages 2.78 goals per game. Saint Louis has a strong 6-2 record and has allowed an average of only .75 goals per game thus far.
To slow down Dayton and to break through against Saint Louis, the Colonials will need their star players to continue producing, but more importantly, other men on the roster will need to step up, too.
That’s because the Colonials’ biggest statistical edge – goals scored – is deceptive. Despite scoring 12 goals, the fifth most goals in the conference, half of those goals have come off the foot of Ranalli.
Ranalli ranked second in the A-10 in both goals and points going into Saturday’s loss to Robert Morris, in which he scored his sixth goal of the season.
The team has a mostly healthy roster, something that has been hard to come by in recent years. Sophomore Jonny Forrest, who scored two goals in the first three games of the season, but has had limited minutes because of injuries, should be ready to go for A-10 play.
“We’ve missed [him] up top,” he said. “We should be back to full strength, full force.”
Sophomore Ross Higgins’ two goals tie Forrest for the second most on the team, and the tough midfielder’s up-tempo play has been one of the teams greatest assets so far. Still, Higgins has played only 480 minutes so far – a modest number for someone who has played in every game – and did not start in the game against Robert Morris.
Jones said that Higgins has been invaluable to the team and is a secret weapon – a burst of energy to inject into the field that Jones will use strategically in A-10 play.
“We’re coming up against teams where sometimes we think that his [Higgins’] pace will be better coming off the bench 15 minutes into the game, when the game has slowed down a bit,” Jones said.
Most of the team’s struggles have been defensive, also ranking fifth in goals scored against. The back line recently gained some confidence, though, going toe-to-toe with nationally ranked No. 11 UMBC through two overtime periods, before the Retrievers finally broke through for the game-winning goal.
Sophomore goalie Jean-Pierre van der Merwe said focusing on the team’s transition game will be key in the coming conference games. The team’s high-octane style of play tends to push players to the front of the field, and Jones has marked defensive transitions as a priority in practice.
Poor transition play has been costly for the team. Against Robert Morris, the back line tucked in too close to the goal just after an offensive play, and allowed an opposing player an uncontested shot that tied the game. The lone goal in the 1-0 loss to NJIT came off a breakaway shot that caught the GW defensemen too far forward.
“We’ve gotta make sure that when we are committing numbers forward, that we have the defensive balance and the numbers back so we don’t get caught out of position,” Jones said.
GW will get some respite once the initial hurdles are over, returning home to face Fordham, and then going on the road against Rhode Island and Massachusetts, the bottom half of the A-10. Those three opponents have a combined record of 5-20-1 so far this season.
The regular season will end with a three-game home stand against the middle of the pack – George Mason, Saint Joseph’s and La Salle. George Mason, though a newcomer to the conference, has been a tough out, bolstering the A-10 with a 5-2-1 line so far this fall.
“In A-10s, you can only expect the best transitions from teams from defense to attack, and that’s where teams are most dangerous and where you can catch teams on the counterattack,” van der Merwe said.