With one regular season game remaining, improved offensive play has helped men’s soccer rise to the top of the conference standings.
The Colonials (8-6-2, 5-2-0 A-10) have scored multiple goals in four of their last six games. During that stretch, they have won five times and shut out their opponents in four contests.
During GW’s opening 10 games, the team struggled to score consistently, going 3-5-2 without winning consecutive games.
“We’ve definitely peaked at the right time,” freshman midfielder Peirce Williams said. “To keep this going we probably just need to keep coming to practice, staying ready, working our hardest and then staying smart on and off the field.”
After the Colonials’ 1–0 victory over Duquesne Saturday, they sit in first place of the Atlantic 10 with 15 points. If they finish in the top four at the end of the regular season, they will secure home field advantage in the tournament.
The game against the Dukes was the first time the Colonials had not scored two or more goals since Oct. 4, but they took 17 shots, including two attempts off the framework and a goal from Williams.
As Williams and the rest of the freshman class have gained more experience, they’ve played a large role in the team’s improved attack. Three of GW’s top five scorers – forward Oscar Haynes Brown and midfielders Brady O’Connor and Peirce Williams – are first-year players.
“I think their growth has been absolutely incredible,” senior midfielder Oliver Curry said. “From day one they were already showing incredible promise and now it’s paying off. They’re stepping up to the plate just like some of the older guys and that’s been huge for us.”
Despite their statistics, Haynes Brown and O’Connor – along with graduate student defender Ben Ogedegbe – have missed the past three games due to injury. Head coach Craig Jones said none of them are ready to play yet, but he hopes to get them in a game before the tournament.
To fill their spots, sophomore midfielders Drini Redzepi, Colin Anderson and Alexy Boehm have each seen sizable increases to their workloads. Redzepi scored his first career goal in GW’s 2–0 win over Dayton Oct. 7.
Curry said newcomers like Redzepi have been integral to the scoring push because they have allowed the Colonials not to miss a beat despite injuries.
“It seems like the more injuries that have creeped in, the more players have stepped up,” Curry said. “We found a lineup in a time of struggle that is actually working for us a lot.”
After toying with several different starting lineups early in the season, Jones has mostly settled on a group that is getting wins. During the Colonials’ three game win-streak, he has started 10 of the same players.
“Throughout the year we were trying to tweak things and trying to find our best lineup in certain spots,” Jones said. “Now we’re hitting a little bit of form at the right time going into postseason play.”
Junior forward Dylan Lightbourn said the consistent lineup has helped end the scoring drought because now the players all know each other’s preferences on the field.
One of the pillars of the lineup is senior Christian Lawal playing center back instead of his former position at the top of the attack. Junior goalkeeper Thor Arne Höfs said Lawal has brought important talent and leadership to their young back line.
Höfs – who sits at second in the A-10 for saves – has also been helped by the recent offensive success. GW has been able to limit its goals against because they are often the first ones on the board and start with the advantage, he said.
“The problem was we’d concede, and then in college soccer teams just sit in and it’s really hard to break them down,” Höfs said.
Recently, the Colonials have garnered much of their success from a focus on crossing the ball in from the outside and challenging defenses in the air. Each of GW’s goals over the past two games have come off service from the wing into a forward in the box.
Jones said they have focused on playing through the wing in practice, and players said it is working for them.
“At the beginning of the season, we didn’t get very many crosses in a game, now we’re scoring goals off of a lot of them,” Williams said. “Just getting the ball in their box and having it bounce around is causing mayhem.”
The Colonials finish off their regular season on the road Saturday when they head to Philadelphia to take on Saint Joseph’s at 7 p.m.
“We have a nice week off now to recover,” Curry said. ”We’re just going to keep doing the same things we’ve been doing in training, taking each game one at a time.”
This article appeared in the October 23, 2017 issue of the Hatchet.