2004: A Season to Remember
Aug. 8, 2005
The 2004 men's soccer campaign was a tale of two seasons for the Colonials. It was a rollercoaster ride that saw the Colonials limped to a 1-8-3 start as they struggled to find themselves and featured a 9-1-1 charge through the second half of the season that culminated in the program's second Atlantic 10 Championship and sixth NCAA Tournament appearance. From the squad's search for an offensive spark early on, to midfielder Steve Brown's lucky gloves, to winning the conference championship on its home field and stunning North Carolina in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, 2004 was season no one in Foggy Bottom will soon forget.
GW opened 2004 the same way it began the previous three seasons, in the DC College Cup, formerly known as the DC Classic, a tournament that features the four Division I soccer programs in the District of Columbia. GW squared off against Georgetown in the tournament's opening match at Reeves Field on the campus of American University on Sept. 4. The Hoyas' Jeff Curtin gave Georgetown a 1-0 lead in the 35th minute and that's all the Hoyas would need as they outlasted GW in tightly contested match. Their season-opening loss didn't keep the Colonials down long, though, as they rebounded two days later, thumping Howard, 5-0, in their final match of the tournament. Five different players scored for GW against the Bison, including Joseph Siegel and Ben Mortimer who earned all-tournament team honors.
After a 1-1 tie versus Radford on Sept. 11, GW returned to Reeves Field to take on American. The Eagles knocked off the Colonials, 3-1, dropping the Buff and Blue's record to 1-2-1 after four matches. GW lost two more road contests, falling to Towson on Sept. 19, 3-1, and the University of Maryland-Baltimore County, 2-0, on Sept. 22.
After playing its first six games away from home, the Colonials closed out the month of September with their home opener at the Mount Vernon Athletics Complex on Sept. 25 against George Mason. GW entered the match with a 1-4-1 mark and was anxious to get back on the winning track on their home field. Unfortunately, the Patriots' Matt Mendy had other ideas. Mendy scored twice in the final 30 minutes of the match to give George Mason a 2-0 victory.
October began the same way September ended as the Colonials lost their conference opener at La Salle on Oct. 1. Greg McKay notched his first career goal to put the Colonials on top, 1-0, in the match. It was GW's first goal in more than 180 minutes, but the Explorers scored twice in the second half to hand the Colonials their fifth straight defeat. Two days later, Coach George Lidster's troops snapped their losing streak, tying Fordham, 1-1, in the Bronx to improve to 1-6-2 on the year.
GW hosted its first pair of conference matches on Oct. 8 and 10 versus Rhode Island and Massachusetts, respectively. Against the Rams, Andre Chapman gave the Colonials a 1-0 lead in the 48th minute on his third goal of the season, but 2004 Atlantic 10 Offensive Player of the Year Sasha Gotsmanov scored a little over three minutes later to knot the match at 1-1 and the contest ended in a draw. Versus Massachusetts, the Colonials appeared headed toward their third straight stalemate after Jon Allen found the back of the net against in the 80th minute, tying the score at 1-1, but the Minutemen's Tim Kitchell scored his first goal of season on a header that just crossed the goal line before it was bicycled away by Matt Davis. The tally, with 5:17 to go in the second overtime period, lifted Massachusetts to victory and handed the Colonials their seventh loss of season.
GW hit rock bottom at Duquesne on Oct. 15. The Dukes thoroughly controlled the match, out-shooting GW, 14-6. Duquesne also recorded nine corner kicks to the Colonials' one on its way to a 3-1 triumph. The loss dropped the Colonials to 1-8-3 overall and 0-3-2 in the A-10.
The turning point in the Colonials' 2004 season came on Oct. 17 at St. Bonaventure. In an effort to shake things up, Coach Lidster started mostly upperclassman in the midfield and up front. Steve Brown also tried something new against the Bonnies, slipping on a pair of thin black gloves on a chilly day in Olean, NY. The Colonials responded to Lidster's lineup change by tallying three goals, including two by Jon Allen and GW picked up its first league win of the year by the score of 3-1.
The Buff and Blue returned home the following weekend and built on the momentum created from defeating the Bonnies. The Colonials knocked off Xavier on Oct. 22, 4-2, and beat Dayton, 3-1, two days later for their third consecutive triumph. Brown had worn his gloves in all three victories and proclaimed he wouldn't stop wearing them until the winning streak came to an end.
The streak didn't end on Oct. 29 as GW shut out Temple, 1-0, at Mount Vernon to improve to 5-8-3 and 4-3-2 in league play. Two more shutouts followed as the Colonials ended the regular season by blanking Saint Joseph's, 2-0, on Oct. 31 and Richmond, 4-0, in the season finale. GW had won its final six regular-season matches to finish with a 6-3-2 mark in league play, good enough for the fourth seed in the six-team conference championship tournament that would be contested on the Colonials' home field.
The A-10 championship commenced on Nov. 11 with the Colonials taking on fifth-seeded Rhode Island in their opening match. There would be overtime against the Rams this time as Frank Ambrosio tallied the game-winner in the 67th minute to give GW a 1-0 triumph. The victory was the fourth straight shutout for the Colonials, one shy of the team record. Ambrosio's golden goal put the Colonials in the tournament semifinals against the conference's regular-season champion and the championship's top seed, Duquesne.
November 12, 2004 was cold and rainy day at the Mount Vernon Athletics Complex. Neither Duquesne nor the Colonials could get on the scoreboard in the matches' first 40 minutes, but with 1:57 to go in the opening period the Dukes' Derek MacKenzie earned a penalty kick and converted on the opportunity to put Duquesne in front, 1-0. It was the first goal GW's defense and goalkeeper Derek Biss had allowed in more than 400 minutes of action.
GW's offensive woes continued in the second half, but the Colonials were awarded a penalty kick chance of their own at 72:51 and Mortimer tied the match with a blast past Dukes' keeper Zach Varga. The remaining 17 minutes and nine seconds in regulation ticked off the clock without another tally and neither team managed a goal in overtime. A shootout was needed to determine which team would advance to the championship match.
Right of the bat, Biss gave the Colonials the edge in the shootout, denying Matt Mehler's kick in the opening round. Ambrosio fired first for GW and scored to give the Colonials a 1-0 advantage. The Dukes' Scott Gibson found the back of the net to tie the shootout, 1-1, and Varga was up to the task for Duquesne, stopping Matt Miller's penalty kick, to keep the shootout tied at one goal apiece. Both squads converted their penalty kicks in the third round, but Biss came up big again for GW, making a diving save on Jason Sourbeer's attempt in the fourth round. Andre Chapman's fourth-round kick was initially stopped by Varga, but he couldn't hold it and the ball rolled across the goal line to give the Colonials a 3-2 advantage. MacKenzie converted Duquesne's final penalty kick, squaring the shootout and setting the stage for Mortimer who delivered again with a shot to the top right corner net that touched off a wild rain-soaked celebration and put GW in the tournament's final match.
The third-seeded Temple Owls were no match for the Colonials in the championship game on Nov. 14. Brown, still wearing his lucky gloves, put GW in front with a tally in the ninth minute and Chapman added an insurance goal in the second half to propel the Colonials to a 2-0 triumph. A Mount Vernon Athletics Complex record crowd of 811 spectators witnessed the match and watched as the Colonials hoisted the A-10 trophy for the second time in three years.
Biss, who tied a tournament record with two shutouts, was named the championship's Most Outstanding Player, while Brown and Mortimer joined him on the All-Championship Team.
By virtue of their conference title, the Colonials received the A-10's automatic bid to the NCAA Championship. It was third time under Lidster that GW earned a berth in the national championship tournament and the sixth time in program history the Colonials participated in the event.
A day after winning the A-10 crown the Colonials gathered to see whom they would meet in the tournament's first round. They didn't have to wait long as it was revealed almost immediately that they would square off against North Carolina at Fetzer Field in Chapel Hill on Nov. 19.
The underdog in most people's minds, the Colonials shocked the Tar Heels early when Ambrosio headed a Trevor Martin pass by North Carolina keeper Ford Williams less than two minutes into the match to grab a 1-0 lead. Ambrosio's goal was all the Colonials would need as their defense was able to withstand furious offensive attacks by the Tar Heels. Biss was a wall in goal, making five saves in the match, including two stops from point-blank range in the final minutes to preserve the victory. It was the sixth shutout of the season for Biss, the most by a Colonial since Nick Parypinski posted seven in 2000.
The win marked the 150th career triumph for Lidster and was GW's second-ever victory in the NCAA Tournament. It also extended the Colonials' unbeaten streak to 10 games (9-0-1), tying the longest such steak in team history, but more importantly it set up a showdown with No. 22 Virginia Commonwealth, the tournament's 16th seed, in second round. However, the fairy tale ending wasn't in the cards for GW as its magical run came to an end in Richmond, VA on Nov. 23. GW fought the Rams the entire way, but only managed eight shots in the match. Biss made three saves, but Ricardo Opoku scored a goal and assisted on the other as Virginia Commonwealth ended the Colonials' incredible run with a 2-0 triumph.
In addition to the team's remarkable accomplishments in 2004, several Colonials were recognized with individual accolades during and after the season. Ben Mortimer became the 19th Colonial to earn all-conference honors when he was selected to the Atlantic 10 All-Conference First Team. He was also named to the NSCAA South Atlantic Region Third Team. In addition to Mortimer's honors, Matt Davis was voted to the 2004 Atlantic 10 All-Rookie Team and Biss was named to the College Soccer News National Team of the Week for his performance in the Atlantic 10 Championship.
After a 10-9-4 season, Steve Brown finally took off his gloves, but there is no doubt 2004 will go down as one of the most memorable seasons in GW men's soccer history.