Men's Soccer Aims for Postseason Return
New season kicks off Friday at Binghamton
WASHINGTON - Craig Jones doesn’t demand his captains address the group before the first day of preseason practice. The George Washington men’s soccer head coach was pleased to cede the floor, however, when Oliver Curry and Christian Lawal spoke up this time around.
The pair of seniors stood before their teammates earlier this month and laid out their goals and expectations for the fall. At the top of the list? A return to the Atlantic 10 Tournament after missing out in 2016.
“It’s the attitude that we’re coming in with,” said Curry, a midfielder who posted three goals and two assists last season. “We just want to come in every day with 100 percent, no matter what the session is and no matter how heavy our bodies (feel). Right now, we’re aiming to win a championship.”
Curry, Lawal and many of the other upperclassmen have been on both sides of it. GW won an A-10 regular season title in 2015 before landing one point short of the conference tournament last fall.
The Colonials bring back six starters and seven others who saw action in at least nine matches for a squad that went 8-5-5 last season, including a home win over regular season champion St. Louis.
“They know how tough it is to get in and what it’s going to take to get in,” Jones said. “Hopefully, those guys are kind of fueling the fire.”
GW also adds nine newcomers to the mix for its sixth season under Jones. It’s an offense-heavy group that should provide a boost for a club looking for more firepower.
The team has a 17-match schedule, including seven home dates, to earn a return to the postseason. The road begins Friday at Binghamton.
“I think when we’ve been successful we’ve had great chemistry,” Curry said. “It’s just a matter of all the guys that are coming in getting to know the older guys and just us gelling as a group, not only on the field but off the field, as well.”
Thor Arne Höfs returns after a record-setting season between the pipes. The junior from Germany posted a program-best nine shutouts and led the A-10 with a 0.60 goals against average. His 68 saves against 11 goals were good for a conference-leading .859 save percentage.
Höfs should be ready to build off that success after spending the summer in New Hampshire, where he helped Seacoast United to the Premier Development League playoffs.
“I think having that experience gives the guys in front of him more confidence,” Jones said. “It’s a key position, not just for us but any team, and if you can get someone who has the technical ability and the confidence, and the guys around him have confidence, you can really build off of that.”
Jones had three preseason games to mix and match in search of the right combination. Expect the experimenting to continue early in the season.
“We’ve got cover for all the spots,” Jones said. “We're looking to see which guys work best together. After we have the chance to pair them up a little bit, it should kind of solidify who we think is going to be our starting back four."
The Colonials will certainly miss Garrett Heine, who had a hand in 12 of their 20 goals. It's going to take a group effort to fill in the gaps after graduating the 2016 A-10 Midfielder of the Year.
“I’m not saying it’s easy to replace what Garrett did, but I think we have the potential and enough guys to do it,” Jones said. “If we can get two guys to have two good 45 minute halves in the game, we’ll be alright.”
Curry will be tasked with creating from the wing. The California native was slowed by injury last season, but he’s a proven difference-maker when healthy.
GW will have to be more efficient around the net to climb back up the A-10 standings.
Jones spent the offseason brainstorming ways to create more goals. The coach believes the Colonials are in better position now to catch the offense up to the defense.
Lawal battled injury in 2016 but still pitched in three goals and an assist. He enters his senior season with 25 career points, hoping to recover the form that landed him on the A-10 second team two years ago.
Dylan Lightbourn is the Colonials’ top returning scorer. The junior from the Bahamas posted four goals and an assist last season. At 6-foot-3, 190 pounds, he’s a threat to finish in a variety of ways.
Brady O’Connor, Jordan Saint-Louis and Oscar Haynes Brown enjoyed decorated youth careers and should see the field right away. Saint-Louis, from nearby Potomac, Md., netted the game-winning goal in Sunday's exhibition against Mary Washington.
“Last year, it’s not like we didn’t create opportunities to score,” Jones said. “That would be a bigger worry if we’re not creating opportunities. We’re creating opportunities. Now we’ve just got to be more consistent in our completion ratio in terms of turning those chances into goals.”
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