Tight defense keeps men’s soccer without a loss in conference play

Media Credit: Hatchet File Photo

Senior forward Oscar Haynes Brown said the team’s victory over VCU gave the team a confidence boost going into the final games of the regular season.

After waiting more than a year to get back on the pitch, men’s soccer has recorded just one loss in six games.

The Colonials (3-1-2, 2-0-2 A-10) have ridden their stout defense to remain undefeated at home and in Atlantic 10 play. Players said after a 1–0 win over VCU last week, the team’s backline and goaltending – which has allowed just two goals in six games – have anchored the team and provided it time to strengthen its offense.

“As we were trying to kind of figure things out offensively, we were very strong defensively,” sophomore goalkeeper Justin Grady said. “So it wouldn’t necessarily hurt us even though we weren’t necessarily scoring as much as maybe we would’ve liked to.”

Grady has taken on the team’s goaltending responsibilities, starting and playing every minute of each game. His .913 save percentage places him atop the A-10 rankings and No. 10 among all NCAA Division I netminders. His .328 goals against percentage also leads the conference and lands him in the top 10 of all NCAA Division I goalkeepers.

Between the pipes, he has snatched 21 saves so far this season. Grady has recorded four clean sheets, tying him for the most in the A-10 with VCU senior goalkeeper Mario Sequeira and Saint Louis sophomore goalkeeper Patrick Schulte.

He notched a season-high four saves against VCU, making a crucial stop in the final minute to retain the lead for the Colonials. Grady also went on to make yet another crucial game-deciding save in the final 15 seconds of the Colonial victory over George Mason Saturday.

“Justin has been unbelievable in goal,” senior forward Oscar Haynes Brown said. “Our defense has been so solid. We got two new centerbacks, but they’ve both been outstanding.”

The Colonials’ backline has been boosted by a pair of new defensive additions in freshman center back Aaron Kronenberg and graduate student center back Hrólfur Sveinsson. The duo rank top-five in minutes played on the squad, tallying 494 and 600 minutes, respectively, with starts in each game they’ve played in.

The team’s roster has dealt with turnover coming into this year. Seven seniors and three graduate students graduated last year, while six new freshmen, three walk-ons and three transfers have joined the squad.

“It was definitely a new dynamic with a lot of new faces coming in, but I feel like the team was able to gel pretty quickly and create a great culture within the team, not even just on the field, but off the field as well,” Grady said. “I feel like everybody really trusts each other. We have a tight-knit group and that really translates to our play on the field.”

The Colonials opened the season with four consecutive double-overtime finishes in which they went 1-1-2. The last time the Colonials played four consecutive overtime games was during the 1984 season.

Haynes Brown said the team’s victory over VCU has given the team a confidence boost going into the final games of the regular season. As a senior this year, Haynes Brown has seen the Colonials fall to the Rams in the last two seasons. He scored the lone goal of the win off a pass from freshman midfielder Tobias Williams.

“I’ve been there for a few losses so that’s why I’m saying that we’ve finally been able to go over the line, get a result against them, which is a big deal,” Haynes Brown said.

The Colonials are currently the top-seeded team in their conference pod, the central pod, just ahead of second place VCU. Head Coach Craig Jones said his team is improving with each game but is still working to put together a full 90-minute blitz.

“I don’t think we’ve played a full 90 or 110 minutes yet firing on all cylinders,” he said. “So we’ve had some spells in the games where we’ve maybe switched off a little bit or could’ve done a little bit better. But each game we have gotten better, which is a great step forward for us.”

The Colonials have outshot their opponents on a per game average of 11.7 to nine, but trail their opponents in shots on goal percentage by a slim margin of .414 to .426. While GW has held opponents to just two goals on the year, the squad has only netted four goals all year, ranking No. 11 of 13 teams in the conference.

“When we have these chances, we’ve got to take them because good teams punish you,” Jones said.

He added that the team needs to be prepared for their second matchup against VCU Wednesday. Only one team can emerge from their pod to move on to the A-10 Tournament, and the GW is hunting for its first postseason appearance since 2017.

“They’re going to be fired up on Wednesday, right?” Jones said. “They just lost. So I think we’re certainly going to have to match that. They’ll certainly be times where I think we’ll be under pressure. So we’re going to have to defend well as a unit, and not take a play off.”

The Colonials hit the road Wednesday for a 7 p.m. contest at VCU. Kickoff is slated for 7 p.m.

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