For much of the last two seasons, Luke Farrell has been men’s soccer’s forgotten man.
After not seeing any playing time during his freshman campaign, the junior men’s soccer goalie played just four games last year, and spent the rest of it recovering from knee and ankle injuries. Because of that, he lost the starting job at the beginning of this season to sophomore Jean-Pierre van der Merwe.
But, during head coach Craig Jones’ pregame talk before a game on Oct. 11 against Dayton – then the nation’s top-scoring offense – Farrell learned he was getting a start between the posts.
“When the meeting was over, I kind of went out in the hallway on my own a little bit and had a really excited moment to myself where I said, ‘Let’s go, this is great,’” he said. “And after that 30 seconds it was just, focus.”
That focus gave Farrell the permanent starting job after he posted two shutouts in his his first three games, the first against Dayton and the second against Fordham.
Through five starts, Farrell has allowed four goals, with three of those games resulting in double-overtime wins for the Colonials.
This time around, Farrell said, he’s certainly not letting the opportunity slip away.
“I always trained over the summer with the mindset that I could come back and play the first game,” Farrell said. “So when I came back, and I wasn’t playing right away, I was a little dissatisfied. But I knew that if I trained hard enough I’d get a chance.”
At the beginning of this season, playing time was far from assured for Farrell, who was told by coaches that he should not expect to play even when he was completely cleared medically. In addition, during his four starts last year, he recorded a mediocre 2.20 goals-against average and a .690 save percentage. He sat the first nine games of last season.
After a four-game skid to close out non-conference play this year though, the coaching staff decided to shake-up the lineup and called on Farrell to try to stop the bleeding. His experience against A-10 opponents, Jones said, tipped the balance in his favor over sophomore Jack Lopez to take the starting spot.
Now, Jones has been able to rely on a stable goalie as the team tries to return to the Atlantic 10 Championships.
“I’ve certainly been surprised by how he looks like he’s played all season. I think I was expecting a little bit of rustiness especially game management-wise, but to be honest he’s looked like he’s been playing regularly,” Jones said.
Farrell is also someone you might call an A-10 specialist.
While starting in seven conference games over the last two years, he has not played a single minute of a non-conference game.
Farrell’s A-10 specialty extends to before he came to GW, as he grew up following A-10 soccer. Justin Sanes, his goalie coach from when he was 9 years old until he graduated high school, played for former A-10 team Temple.
Farrell’s success in goal may be due to his different style of play compared to van der Merwe. His biggest strength is his commanding presence in both the 6- and 18-yard box.
On Oct. 20, the Colonials managed to stop 14 corner kicks in a win against Fordham. During the lead-up to each one, Farrell would emphatically scream directions at his backline, helping them organize well enough to keep a clean sheet. He also took much of the pressure off of them by risking a safe position between the bars to come out of the goal far enough to clear the crossing shots himself.
“I just try to be very commanding of my area and try to be very loud. I want my presence to be felt on the field whereas sometimes other goalkeepers around the league or in high school kind of sit back,” Farrell said.
It’s that active presence in the goal that has helped Farrell lead the men’s soccer team to a 2-1-2 record in the A-10, giving the Colonials a fourth-place spot in the tough conference. Farrell’s contribution to that success was a surprise to Jones, who wasn’t necessarily expecting that kind of production.
“If someone had told me that he was going to start in the A-10s and then concede one goal in three games I wouldn’t have bet my house on that in Vegas, that’s for sure,” Jones said. “We had the confidence in him, but you never know how it’s going to turn out.”