Men’s soccer is four months out from the start of its season, but the Colonials are already experimenting with their lineup to prepare for August.
The Colonials played American Tuesday morning in the fourth of five exhibition games this spring. With five veterans graduating and a crop of new players joining in the fall, head coach Craig Jones has been using these games to test his players in different positions and re-evaluate those who did not see much playing time last season to determine the team’s starting 11 this fall.
“We are starting to really groom the team for next year, so these games are key for us to keep developing,” Jones said.
The Colonials owned a 9-7-2 record and went 6-2-0 in Atlantic 10 conference play last season. GW entered the A-10 Championship as the No. 3 seed before being knocked out of the tournament in the quarterfinal round by Rhode Island 1-0.
GW will lose four seniors – midfielders Oliver Curry, Koby Osei-Wusu and Alex Conning and forward Christian Lawal – and redshirt senior defender Ben Ogedegbe to graduation this spring. All five started at least 10 games last fall and averaged at least 68 minutes of play per game. Lawal was one of two Colonials to start in all 18 outings.
Although the seniors’ college soccer careers are over, some – like Curry and Lawal – have played in the exhibition games, keeping them in form for potential future soccer aspirations. Jones said their experience and leadership off the field this spring has helped guide players who are still going through the program.
The Colonials are set to return 17 members from last season’s roster, including four freshmen who played an average of at least 52 minutes of play per game.
Freshman forward Oscar Haynes Brown and midfielders Brady O’Connor and Peirce Williams combined for 13 of the team’s 25 goals as three of the top five scorers. Freshman defender Joshua Yurasits started 16 games and logged 1,478 minutes in his rookie year.
“We’ve got a lot of guys who can move around,” sophomore midfielder Alexy Boehm said. “It’s really important to have guys play multiple positions.”
In the offseason, the Colonials play in these exhibition games against local universities every year. Although GW beat American 4-1 Tuesday, Jones said the three games leading up to the Colonials’ match against the Eagles were “tough” because of lineup and formation changes. But growing pains are part of the process, he added.
Boehm – who saw action in 10 games and played as a midfielder last season – said spring games help make clear where everyone fits on the team and how they work together without the players who will not be on the squad in the fall. After the game Tuesday, Boehm said he has been testing out the right back position.
“A lot of the games are just trial to see how well we handle getting thrown into positions we haven’t played before or trying or new things, new formations,” Boehm said.
On the offensive end, returning players combine for 18 of the team’s 25 goals last year. Last season, GW’s second-half offense spurred a four-game win streak for the Colonials heading into the A-10 Championship.
Jones said he anticipates GW’s offense to reach a higher level on the field next year because the majority of last season’s offensive line will return, and he has seen improvement in those players since the spring.
“If you’ve got a team or players who can score goals, then you’ve always got a chance to win games,” Jones said. “I think that excites me more than anything, knowing that we can play more attacking and we’ve got guys to finish stuff off.”
GW’s offensive lineup includes Haynes Brown – who scored a team-leading six goals last season – and junior midfielder Alastair Berry, who sat out most of the season due to injury. Jones said Berry would be a “big piece” in the team’s lineup if he stays healthy.
On the defensive end, Jones said he does not have a shortage of defenders, but he is still trying to figure out which combination of players will end up as the team’s final back four. GW’s defense, which posted six shutouts last season, returns three members of its defensive line.
Jones has been testing Yurasits, who settled into the left back position last season, at the center defender position alongside sophomore midfielder Colin Anderson.
Berry – who is “keen” on returning to the field after spending last season on the sideline – said every player will play a part in the team’s success next season.
“Our freshman class was brilliant last year,” Berry said. “We’ve got some great guys coming in as well, some strong juniors, great sophomores, it’s looking good honestly.”