The story of the 2014 men’s soccer season really began last November, when a single loss kept the Colonials out of the postseason.
Now, after a 1-1-1 record in exhibition play, both seasoned returners and dynamic new talent are bent on reaching their potential.
“The group is better, better than it was last year,” head coach Craig Jones said. “We are stronger mentally. The guys are returning and have played a lot of minutes. We’re trying to get our newcomers integrated straight away so they don’t have to stand by. We have a chance here.”
The Colonials finished last season 5-10-2, with eight of their losses coming in two separate four-game losing streaks. The second losing streak ended the season and erased GW’s playoff potential for the second year in a row.
“Everyone has a really bad taste in their mouth from the end of last season, from being in a great position and not making the A-10 tournament,” senior defender Matthew Scott said.
At times, the group appeared like a different team from one game to the next. The Colonials who played both defending A-10 champion Saint Louis and then-No. 19 Dayton to double-overtime ties were unrecognizable from the squad that whimpered through a loss to UMass, who finished 4-14-1, and needed double overtime to put away Rhode Island, who finished 0-8 in conference play last year.
Often, it really wasn’t the same players on the field from game to game. Senior Andri Alexandersson said after then-sophomores Ross Higgins and Jonny Forrest suffered injuries, the team struggled to develop a consistent lineup and settle into a rhythm, which the Colonials hope to do now that both players are healthy.
The team will look to Forrest for offense this season after the loss of senior forward Tyler Ranalli, who led the team with six goals last year. Forrest, who Alexandersson called a “big aspect of the team,” scored three goals last season for a Colonials team that averaged 1.12 goals per game.
But Jones said he isn’t looking for one go-to player to find the back of the net.
“We really need goals to come from other places besides a so-called forward or so-called goal scorer,” Jones said. “We have got to get it from our midfield players and even our defenders.”
Alexandersson said junior Philip McQuitty and sophomores Jopus Grevelink and Angel Valencia could be those players in the upcoming season, adding that he thinks they will do a “great job filling Tyler’s shoes.” That trio combined for just one goal last season, with the score coming from Valencia against Massachusetts in late October.
Valencia scored again Tuesday in the Colonials’ 2-0 win against Catholic University in exhibition play. Alexandersson scored the other GW goal.
The most explicit positional battle, like last year, is competition for the starting goaltending spot.
Last season, Jean-Pierre van der Merwe entered the season as the starting goalie, but Luke Farrell took van der Merwe’s spot for A-10 play after van der Merwe allowed 10 goals during one of the Colonials’ four-game losing streaks.
Farrell seemed like the answer to the team’s problems at first, giving up a single goal in his first three games, including contests against Dayton and Saint Louis. But he crumbled later in a crucial three-game losing stretch, allowing 2.33 goals per game.
Jones went back to van der Merwe for the pivotal final game of the year with the postseason on the line. While the South Africa native played well, he didn’t get any goal support in a 1-0 loss to La Salle. GW’s opponents averaged 1.35 goals per game last season.
This year, juniors Jack Lopez and van der Merwe and senior Farrell will vie for the starting position. Van der Merwe started in the goal for the team’s exhibition opener, a 2-0 loss at Lehigh, and for Saturday’s exhibition match against James Madison.
The net isn’t the only place to find inter-squad competition, with a slew of rising sophomores and juniors as well as six talented freshmen competing for a spot on the lineup card.
“From what I’ve seen so far this season, there is a lot of competition for positions, and that’s good to see,” Alexandersson said. “Our overall depth and competitiveness within the team is going to make a big difference this season.”
Jones has yet to finalize his starters with less than a week until the Colonials’ season opener. Van der Merwe, Scott, Alexandersson, sophomore and A-10 Preseason All-Conference Second Team selection Tobi Adewole, junior transfer Oliver De Thier, senior Farhan Khan, sophomore Garrett Heine and junior Phillip McQuitty started against both Catholic and James Madison.
All that depth means Jones will look for every player to contribute, which will allow the team to move away from the go-to-scorer model.
“If I have got five guys who score six goals next season, we’ll probably have a good chance of [winning a conference championship],” Jones said. “If we have one guy who scores 15, we won’t.”
Pivotal games this season include GW’s home opener against unfamiliar foe Harvard University, conference home games Oct. 17 and 19 against La Salle and Saint Joseph’s, respectively, and the team’s season finale Nov. 9 against A-10 newcomer Davidson. The season officially begins Friday at 5 p.m. at American in the Colonials’ first game of the Kuykenstrong D.C. College Cup.