The Rams dealt the finishing blow in the 55th minute when graduate student Alberto Pangrazzi scored a glancing header past sophomore goalkeeper Justin Grady to hand Fordham a 2-0 lead Friday.
The No. 4 Colonials (5-3-2, 3-1-2 A-10) fell to undefeated No.3 Fordham (6-0-2, 2-0-2 A-10) in a 2–0 loss, marking the first defeat against the Rams since 2012. After falling behind in the first half, GW couldn’t muster the offensive firepower to get back in the game.
“We didn’t match up in the final,” graduate student midfielder Sandro Weber said. “We didn’t get our foot into the door in terms of playing our own system. We just played Fordham’s game. And I think that was the main reason that we just couldn’t create any big chances.”
Prior to the title game, the Colonials had defeated No. 1 Dayton in a 1–0 victory last Thursday. Sophomore midfielder Tom Cooklin delivered a long ball into the box where freshman midfielder Carter Humm flicked it on with his head to Weber, who finished with a smashing header of his own past the Flyers’ keeper.
Grady matched a career-high six saves against Dayton to help usher the Colonials to their first A-10 title game since 2011 and the first under head coach Craig Jones since he took over the position in 2012.
The squad’s performance this season exceeded expectations around the league. GW was ranked 11th out of 13 teams in the Atlantic 10 Men’s Soccer Preseason Poll.
“There’s a lot of people that probably didn’t think we were going to go as far as we did, or didn’t think that we had the potential to reach that far,” sophomore defender Ryan Cedeno said.
But the victory came at a price. The Colonials went into the championship game undermanned, suffering injuries against Dayton to two key players on the offensive and defensive side of the ball.
“As much as we tried to deflect some of the attention away from that, I think it definitely had an impact on the group probably mentally and physically for us on the field,” Jones said.
The two sides spent much of the first half feeling each other out. The Rams played probing balls into space, attempting to pick apart the Colonial defense which had allowed just five goals all season. It was the first time either side had played against each other this year with the advent of the pod system.
“It’s one thing to look at film and watch them over and over again and see their tendencies,” Cedeno said. “And then it’s another thing to actually be in the game and experience it firsthand.”
In the 29th minute of play, the Rams broke through the vaunted Colonial back four following a set piece play.
After GW cleared the ball away, freshman defender Galen Flynn connected with graduate student defender Matt Sloan on a cross. Sloan drove the ball low and to the ground with his head and Grady attempted to make a diving save, but the ball glanced off his fingertips into the back of the net.
Jones said falling behind early dealt a “psychological blow” to the team. It was the first time the Colonials had trailed all season in regulation play. The Rams continued to dominate time of possession and hinder a Colonial resurgence.
The Rams nearly added to their lead just over two minutes later after a late challenge by junior midfielder Grant Barrientos gave Fordham another set piece opportunity. Sloan launched a shot toward the top left corner of the net. The ball took a deflection off the back of a GW defender, forcing Grady to make a leaping save to touch the ball over the crossbar.
Weber, the graduate student midfielder, tried to tie the game in the 42nd minute, but his shot was blocked near the top of the box. The ball ricocheted at the feet of Barrientos, who had an open look at net, but couldn’t pull the trigger in time as he was swallowed up by Rams defenders.
The Rams accumulated seven corners in the first half alone and racked up nine shots while the Colonials registered just three shots.
Fordham continued to apply pressure in the second half, keen on retaining their undefeated streak in the A-10 conference final. Rams senior defender crossed the ball to Flynn who made a back post run behind sophomore midfielder Elias Norris, sending a diving header wide of the net just under 30 seconds into the half.
In the 55th minute, senior forward Sameer Fathazada found Pangrazzi on a curling cross over the head of freshman defender Christian Rader. Pangrazzi redirected the ball past Grady to give the Rams a two-goal buffer.
In the 69th minute, freshman midfielder Tobias Williams served the ball to graduate student defender Hrolfur Sveinsson. Sveinsson couldn’t get enough power behind the header, allowing Rams graduate student goalkeeper Josh Levine to make a comfortable save, his only save of the match.
“I think it just caught up with us a little bit in the end,” Jones said. “I guess if there was any kind of regret, I didn’t think we gave enough. We didn’t show enough of what we’ve done all season.”
Freshman midfielder Tim Neumann launched a shot over the crossbar in the 87th minute but it never tested Levine. The Rams proceeded to slow the game down and run out the rest of the clock to claim their fourth conference title in program history.
Jones said the team stuck around for the award ceremony after the game to pay their respects to Fordham but to also use the moment as motivation going into next year with their newfound experience.
“If you’re ever back there, you don’t want to go through that pain again,” Jones said. “You want to be on the other side. So we already got some fuel for next season to drive us on.”