In mid-September of 2014, men’s soccer took down then-No. 22 Navy on the road, the first victory for the Colonials over a ranked opponent since 1997. But from there, GW lost three straight matches and any momentum it had heading into Atlantic 10 play, where the Colonials finished 2–4–2 and missed the postseason for the third consecutive year.
Battling injury and facing tough opponents to begin its 2015 campaign, GW went 1–4 in its first five games, and once again looked doomed to repeat another mediocre, postseason–less year.
But with trust in its coaching staff, the emergence of a consistent finisher and the return of key forwards, men’s soccer is finally rolling when it matters most: league play.
After winning two of three heading into their A-10 season opener, the Colonials have a perfect 3–0 record against conference foes. Victories over Davidson, Saint Joseph’s and George Mason have given GW its best start in league play since 2000 and tied the team for first place in the A-10.
“There’s still five games left in the A-10 and we’ve been in this position before and slumped,” head coach Craig Jones said following the Colonials’ victory over Longwood Tuesday. “We’ve just got to make sure we stick to what we’ve been doing well, and if we can improve a little each game on both sides of the ball then hopefully we’ll get a couple more wins before the end of the year.”
After GW’s 1–0 win over George Mason on Saturday, junior forward Garrett Heine explained that throughout the season the team has had trust in its coaching staff to find the best lineup, and in its most recent stretch, the group is finally clicking.
Sophomore forward Christian Lawal said despite the slow start this season, the Colonials knew they would eventually hit their stride.
“At the beginning of the season we played some good sides and weren’t too deflated by the results, and we knew once we got the rhythm, once we got it going, it was always going to click,” Lawal said.
The majority of GW’s losing results in the first half of the season stemmed from a lack of offensive production, outscored 11–4 in its first five contests. The team was in desperate need of a consistent finisher, and Heine stepped up.
The San Diego native now leads the Colonials with six goals and three assists, is tied for second-highest scorer in the A-10, and averages an impressive 1.25 points per game. Heine also has recorded four game-winning goals this year, while no other Colonial has posted more than one.
“Garrett’s been coming through for us with goals and assists and just great performances,” sophomore midfielder Oliver Curry, who had a game-winner of his own Tuesday, said. “He’s a huge part of the program, a huge part of this team. Just the whole squad right now is coming through for us.”
Key injuries also hindered the team’s ability to get going early, but at the start of league play, most of those players were back on the field and making an impact. Most notably Lawal and sophomore midfielder Koby Osei-Wusu: a dangerous threat up top and an essential playmaker, respectively.
Lawal, who led GW offensively with seven points (three goals, one assist) as a rookie last year, picked up right where he left off when inserted back into the lineup in 2015. With more than half of A-10 play remaining, the speedy striker already has four goals and two assists, the second-most points on the team.
“It’s frustrating because I never wanted to be injured for such a long period of time,” Lawal said. “It was hard missing games at the start of the season but I knew once I got back into it I’d be able to impact the team again and hopefully score some goals.”
Osei-Wusu has already racked up three assists in a stretch of important matches, and helped an already skilled midfield group become even more effective. Senior midfielder Eddie Painter has also produced for the Colonials. The veteran is the team’s third-highest scorer with three goals and two assists on the year.
“Chris was injured the first half of the season, he came back and was a huge spark for us. Eddie’s been hot, I’ve been scoring goals this year, and Koby has been distributing the ball for us really well. Same with Ollie [De Their] and Spiro [Tsakos] and the other midfielders,” Heine said. “It’s just a team effort overall. Just the pressure we put on [opponents] creates chances.”
All of these offensive elements, not to mention a recent three-game shutout streak from an air-tight defense and solid goaltending by both senior Jack Lopez and freshman Thor Arne Hofs have placed the Colonials in a great position in the Atlantic 10.
Five games remain, and if GW can keep this momentum going, the team may be heading to the playoffs for the first time since 2011.
The Colonials (7‒5‒0, 3‒0 A-10) resume league play on Saturday at home against Rhode Island (5‒5‒2, 0‒1‒1 A-10) at 1 p.m.