The majority of goals scored and shots taken for men’s soccer so far this season have come from the team’s group of freshmen.
Although the Colonials have fallen in three of their four games this fall, the emergence of each of the six freshman field players has helped establish a deeper GW roster as the season progresses.
“We tried using freshmen in preseason and they did so well that we have used them in the start of our regular season,” head coach Craig Jones said. “It is good that they are getting a lot of minutes now and it is getting them battle ready and game hardened for when we start the A-10s.”
After graduating multiple 2016 starters – including Tobi Adewole, Spiros Tsakos, Oliver De Thier, Sam Summerlin and Garrett Heine – Jones said he was counting on both returners and freshmen to fill open roles.
“We lose some guys every year and we try to replace what we lose,” Jones said. “We were very optimistic and silently confident that this group was going to be a very good group, but you never know until they come in.”
GW’s first netted shot of the year came off the head of freshman midfielder Brady O’Connor during the team’s game against Lehigh Aug. 27. O’Connor is one of five Colonials field players and the only freshman who started all four games this year.
O’Connor started the season opener as a central forward, but has since been moved around and is often positioned in the 10 slot — the central attacking midfielder. Jones said he is impressed by the Baltimore native’s ability to play in both spots or on the wing if needed.
Along with O’Connor, freshman forwards Jordan Saint-Louis and Oscar Haynes Brown and midfielder Peirce Williams were also brought in to help score. Jones has repeated his desire to finish more shots after losing Heine, who scored a team-high seven goals last year.
“The last couple years we have struggled to score goals, so we wanted to go a little top heavy on the offensive side,” Jones said. “We wanted a natural goal scorer, and we felt that Brady can obviously play that up top but he can also play in the 10.”
Haynes Brown scored the most recent goal for the Colonials after a pass from sophomore midfielder Drini Redzepi and a touch left him with an open net. He is the only freshman field player to miss a game, which happened twice last week while he awaited clearance by the NCAA.
Jones said Haynes Brown has the natural scoring ability with a poaching style of attack.
Williams and Saint-Louis both see a fair share of their minutes on the wing – often opposite of senior captain Oliver Curry. The duo has a combined nine shots and has looked proficient despite challenges adapting to the pace of play.
“The game is a lot faster. Academy is based on the fundamentals of possession and if you have more possession you win,” Williams said. “For college it is faster and if you get the ball forward you can hold it up and get as many chances as you can.”
On the other side of the field, freshman Simon Fitch played as a central midfielder while freshman defender Joshua Yurasits has been the lone newcomer starting on the defensive line.
Jones said Yurasits got his second start last week because he wants to play whoever is in form at the time, regardless of their age or experience.
“We didn’t see Josh early on – six months ago – starting for us,” Jones said. “But form is what gets you minutes and starts.”
The freshmen have combined for 1,064 minutes through the four games, and the ones who don’t start are often some of the first players off the bench.
Although he had high expectations for the group, Jones said he was happy with the athletic ability and endurance the newcomers had on day one. Often freshmen do not arrive on campus as athletic as the Division I level demands.
“The good thing for the group was that they came in fit,” Jones said. “All the guys are in shape and once we started playing they knew they could hang with the group and that gave them a little bit of confidence and they fed off that.”
Several of the freshmen said that after three weeks of preseason training and two weeks in the season, they’re now comfortable with the squad and prepared to continue competing.
“Every session you just settle down a little bit,” Haynes Brown said. “You start really nervous and wanting to impress the coaches. You don’t know how the team will play or if they will click with your play. But now I’m comfortable and friends with all the boys.”
The Colonials return to action Wednesday, after eight days off, when they travel to Navy for a 7 p.m. game.