Men’s soccer looks to improve in latest campaign

The men’s soccer team might be in for one of those 50th birthdays where everyone asks awkward questions about what they have accomplished in their lives.

The Colonials celebrate half a century of existence this year, but will probably postpone the party until after they see how the season shapes up. The last couple of years have been disappointing, but the team looks set to make a leap forward.

“We have a good mix within the group and good team cohesion,” head coach Craig Jones said in a release. “Some new faces have added some depth to the group, and combined with the returners, we hope can pull us through and win some of the close games we lost out on last season.”

The Colonials haven’t played post-season soccer since 2011, but nearly 90 percent of all the offensive output from last year’s team returns, including sophomore Christian Lawal (three goals and one assist last season), junior Garrett Heine (two goals and three assists) and senior Jonny Forrest (three goals).

Forrest has dealt with injuries that have stalled his promising career and is again sidelined. At full strength he has some of the best finishing skills on the team, which could go a long way as the team needs offensive consistency in order to improve on last year’s 6-9-2 finish. The Colonials, who were 2-4-2 in the Atlantic 10, scored just 17 goals in 17 games.

Forrest, Lawal, junior forward Alex Portela and sophomore midfielder Koby Osei-Wusu all did not play due to injuries in the team’s 2-1 loss to American in the season opener Friday, or in its 3-1 win over Howard on Sunday. GW started Heine and senior Phillip McQuitty at forward on Friday and freshman Alastair Berry and senior Ross Higgins on Sunday.

The team has some depth to play with. Six total freshmen joined the roster, including the Scottish midfielder Berry. Berry was selected to the A-10 Preseason All-Rookie team and his strength in the top third should also help with GW’s offensive output.

Whether or not they can score, GW’s situation in goal is one to watch. Senior Jack Lopez is an unknown quantity, playing just over 39 minutes between the posts last season when JP van der Merwe started all 17 games. Van der Merwe was a redshirt junior last season but has not returned.

The team also added rookie goalies Thor Arne Hofs, a German product, and and Jason Re, who should be third on the depth chart at the position. Hofs received the start against American and registered seven saves.

“I thought [Hofs] was awesome today,” Jones said following Friday’s loss. “We’ll probably rest him on Sunday and switch him up with Jack [Lopez], who’s had a great preseason, but I think we might have a similar situation [as last year] because we have two guys who are very very close in skill.”

Lopez started Sunday, but didn’t see much action, as Howard registered just five shots to GW’s 19. Lopez gave up one goal and registered no saves.

The losses from last season weren’t too severe. Aside from van der Merwe, the graduation of rangy defenseman Andri Alexandersson will be the most difficult to overcome.

Friday’s starting defensive core, made up of juniors Tobi Adewole, Miles McClearn, Sam Summerlin and sophomore Ismail Lapp-Kamara will look to pick up the slack. Jones played a backline of Lapp-Kamara, McClearn, Matt Scott and Adewole on Sunday, while Summerlin got in the starting action on Friday.

“We return most of our back line, so we have some experience there as they’ve all played substantial minutes in their careers,” Jones said in the release. “We will need the whole group to lead from the back, help our newcomers adjust when they are added to the lineup and give us the defensive foundation to work from. I think we can add more goals and assists this year from this group in addition to their defensive responsibilities.”

On the face of it, the rankings don’t look good. GW was picked in the preseason poll of the conference’s head coaches to finish 10th of 13 teams and only the top eight finishers will compete in the A-10 Championship in November. But there’s a pretty significant logjam in the middle of the conference. George Mason, the team picked to finish third, was 4-2-2 in conference last season.

The team also has a tough non-conference schedule to get through. GW is playing two NCAA final four teams, including national champion Virginia on Sept. 29 in Charlottesville. That game comes just a week after the team hosts UMBC on Sept. 22, who the Cavaliers defeated in last year’s semifinals to reach the national championship game.

The team does have solid leadership to rely on through that difficult portion of the calendar and if they end up fighting for a postseason berth. Last year’s captain Scott returns to play a final year as a graduate student after missing the 2012 season due to injury. Head coach Craig Jones also should be hitting his stride in his fourth year.

This team should be better than it has been in the recent past, but some things will need to break the right way for GW to end its postseason drought. Check back in November, but it’s not time for a mid-life crisis car yet.

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