Men’s soccer is off to its best start in 17 seasons this fall with an unrelenting offense that has peppered the net with goals through their first stretch of non-conference play.
The Colonials (2-0-1) are undefeated after scoring eight goals on a .250 shooting percentage, more than doubling their goals per game and shot percentage from last season in their first three games. Star players like senior forward Tom Cooklin, junior defense Aaron Kronenberg and graduate student forward Oscar Haynes Brown have led the offense with a combined five goals.
The wins give GW its best start to a season since 2005, when the Colonials registered three wins and a tie during their first four games before going on to set a 6-8-3 record on the year.
Head Coach Craig Jones said the team is still “a work in progress” continuing to build its defense for tougher teams later in the season. In the Colonials’ most recent match against Columbia Friday, the team struggled to maintain ball possession, but the defense managed to hang on, only letting up one goal in a 2–1 victory.
“If we can take anything into that game, it’s that we can defend,” Jones said in a post-game interview on Saturday. “As a group, we did really well to defend, we could have done a lot of things a lot better, but we’re going to be in a situation where we’re hanging on to win.”
After a series of injuries among GW’s attacking players forced Jones to adjust the starting lineup at the start of the season, he hopes recent additions to the squad this fall will maintain the GW defense. The men’s soccer team has six newcomers, including newly emerging team leaders like defender Lucas Matuszewski, graduate transfer midfielder Connor Stephens, freshman forward Alex Nicholson and freshman midfielder Connor Braun who have shared increased left side play on the field.
After GW rushed to six goals in the first two matches, the Colonials’ offense lost steam against Columbia after scoring in the first 15 seconds of play. In their recent match against Columbia University, The Colonials struggled to surge ahead past the Lions, who outshot the GW team.
Jones said GW needs to make more stops on defense and extend their offensive possessions against tougher teams that challenge their starting lineup.
“Hopefully, we should win more games than we lose, and maybe today we didn’t because of the game, but in the past few games, we have created some chances of being cynical,” Jones said. “So that team is going to continue to improve, we can always improve, but I’m happy with the offensive stop.”
The Colonials began the nonconference season with a 2–2 tie against William and Mary on Aug. 19 before GW notched back-to-back wins against Manhattan College and Columbia University in respective 4–2 and 2–1 victories
Jones said injuries have sidelined four of the team’s starters – Cooklin, senior defense Jared DeMott, freshman defense Keni Winger and freshman defense Connor Braun. He said they have been unable to play complete games, but he plans to slowly return them to competition at full capacity.
Jones declined to share the nature of the injuries and the expected length of recovery for the players because of Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act guidelines.
Senior midfielder Tiago Carvalho scored his first goal of his career against Columbia, hoping to continue capitalizing on scoring opportunities for the Colonials. He said the team hopes to better detect offensive plays from the opponents with a better mental game to stave off shots on goal as the season rolls on.
Carvalho said the team was caught playing defense in their own territory, overwhelmed by the Lions and unable to find their footing after their first goal of the match.
“I think for me, it also has to do with composure and not playing into the team’s hands,” Carvalho said in a post-game interview Friday. “We normally are a team that tries to play out of the buck, we try to play like good football or soccer, and today we kind of fell a little bit into the opposition team’s half. We didn’t really play out very much.”
Kronenberg, who scored his first goal of the season during the Colonial’s last match, said the team works in tandem to adjust to every opportunity with composure and organization, especially during more hectic games like the past Friday match against Columbia. He said the team has reorganized its lineup to fill open spots left by the team’s injuries, forcing several defensive players to practice at new attacking positions further up the field.
Kronenberg said the Colonials needs to focus on improving their chemistry on the field to complement one another instead of competing within the same team.
“Something we definitely need to work on as set pieces, I feel that we should not compete with the group, and we just got to stay organized and got to stay composed,” Kronenberg said in a post-game interview on Friday. “We talk about that a lot, just have that clarity in your head, and it’s just something I feel like everyone can work on together.”
The team also holds a solid defensive showing, with senior goalkeeper Justin Grady snatching seven saves so far this season with a .583 save percentage, which places him at the top of the Colonial’s defense. He displayed an impressive showing against the Lions, where he held off 14 shots from the Lions, ensuring the Colonial’s win.
“We just want every team to make them feel that it’s just not comfortable to play against us,” Kronenberg said. “They go home and just shake their heads and don’t even know what happened, it’s just how we play.”
The Colonials hit the road Friday for a 7 p.m. contest at Navy. Kickoff is slated for 7 p.m.
This article appeared in the September 5, 2022 issue of the Hatchet.