Men’s soccer leans on freshmen talent to turn around offense

Media Credit: Hatchet File Photo by Francis Rivera | Senior Staff Photographer

Freshman defender Christian Lawal heads the ball earlier this season. Lawal, along with freshman Koby Osei-Wusu, started as forward last weekend in head coach Craig Jones' effort to revitalize the offense. Lawal scored his second goal of the season against Saint Joseph's on Sunday.

The men’s soccer team is shaking things up.

After enduring a 4-0 loss to Robert Morris and a 2-1 defeat to Rhode Island, and with several key players sidelined, head coach Craig Jones said he knew he needed to make a change.

While players with a decent amount of experience were at his disposal, Jones instead turned to his freshman class to jumpstart the team’s struggling offense.

Against Saint Joseph’s and La Salle last weekend, Jones started four rookies: Christian Lawal, Koby Osei-Wusu, Oliver Curry and Alex Conning.

It’s not about a player’s class year or the amount of collegiate experience he has, Jones said. In a situation like GW’s, he is simply looking for who will deliver the best results.

“For us, they’re the guys who are playing well,” Jones said after Sunday’s game against Saint Joseph’s. “I don’t really care as a coach whether it’s a freshman, junior, sophomore or senior. We are going to pick the guys who we think are going to be the right fit.”

There to try to turn around GW’s offensive slump were Lawal and Osei Wusu.

Lawal, a defender by trade, had started as both a midfielder and defender at different points this year, while Osei-Wusu had not recorded a single start this season. Both freshmen made their first career starts at forward against the Explorers and Hawks.

Jones elected to start Lawal and Osei-Wusu instead of other forwards on the roster, like sophomores Jopus Grevelink, Angel Valencia and Garrett Heine, who have all seen playing time at the forward position this season.

While neither forward scored against the Explorers, Jones’ risk paid off, as Lawal was responsible for scoring the equalizer against Saint Joseph’s in a game that ended in a 1-1 tie. Curry assisted both goals on the weekend.

“With Christian, we just decided that with his pace and his athleticism, he could create stuff for us up top,” Jones said. “We put him in spells throughout the season, and we just decided to start him there. And I think these last two games, he’s done very well.”

Lawal, who is now tied for second on the team in scoring with two goals, credits the smooth transition to his past experience as a forward.

“I played a lot of different positions throughout my career, so its fun to play up top,” Lawal said. “I think the change of strategy and a bit more freshness is helping us create a few more chances and be able to put them away.”

Osei-Wusu, who was unable to showcase his talent for a portion of the preseason because of injury, is taking advantage of his newfound opportunity as a starter.

Despite missing a penalty kick Friday, Osei-Wusu recorded 152 minutes of playing time this weekend, creating chances on the attack and taking a total of seven shots.

“He’s always had talent and he’s just getting his chance now to express it, and he’s doing very well with it,” senior co-captain Matthew Scott said.

In addition to creating goal scoring opportunities, Lawal and Osei-Wusu are also helping the team on the other side of the ball.

“It’s really helped [our] defenders because that gives us a chance to rest. And I think that was a problem we had earlier in the season, where the ball was going forward and coming back too fast,” Scott said. “But especially with them two up there, we’re holding it up there for a while.”

The Colonials scored eight goals in their first four games to start the season, with three coming from junior Jonny Forrest, who remains the team’s leading scorer. But the usual starting forward duo of Forrest and junior Philip McQuitty soon fell silent when the Colonials dropped five of their next six games, and scored just five goals in that stretch.

An additional blow came when Forrest, who has missed games in each of his last two seasons due to injury, was sidelined again after sustaining what Jones said was a “contact injury” to his leg.

Forrest has not seen action on the field since Sept. 30, but Jones said there is a “50-50” chance that the junior forward will take the pitch against Saint Bonaventure this weekend.

Since Sept. 27, the Colonials have also gone without senior co-captain Andri Alexandersson, who scored an overtime winner against then-No. 22 Navy last month. Jones said the midfielder participated in warm-ups last Sunday and “will definitely travel this weekend,” to Olean, N.Y.

It remains to be seen how the Colonials will continue to perform as they head on the road, where they will play their next three games. What is certain is Jones seems content with the performance of his freshmen, who haven’t lost a game in their short time as starting forwards.

Regardless of what happens in the next few games, the success of GW’s freshman class bodes well for the team’s future. Jones said the results from his underclassmen are “very encouraging.”

“It’s difficult to probably not start them again,” Jones said. “It was the same lineup on Friday and Sunday, and they haven’t lost. And we want to reward guys who are doing well.”

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