GW Men's Soccer Kicks Off 2012 Campaign on Friday Against LIU Brooklyn
Colonials Host Blackbirds at 4 p.m. in Jones' Head Coaching Debut
Aug. 23, 2012
WASHINGTON - The George Washington men's soccer team begins the Craig Jones era on Friday afternoon when the Colonials host LIU Brooklyn in the 2012 season opener. Kickoff at the GW Soccer Field on the Mount Vernon Campus is set for 4 p.m.
Coach Jones, a long-time assistant and 1999 GW alumnus, took over at the helm following the retirement of the program's all-time winningest coach, George Lidster, at the end of last season's run to the Atlantic 10 championship game.
Picked to finish sixth in the Atlantic 10 preseason poll, the Colonials return 14 letterwinners and six starters from last season's squad, which posted a 10-6-3 overall record and 7-2-0 conference mark to claim a share of the A-10 regular-season crown.
GW unofficially kicked off its 2012 campaign last weekend with a pair of exhibition matches, defeating Lehigh, 1-0, at home before falling at No. 23 Old Dominion, 3-0. Sophomore Farhan Khan, who scored the golden goal in the 108th minute of the Colonials' 2-1 double-overtime victory over La Salle in the 2011 A-10 semifinals, picked up where he left off, netting the game-winner against the Mountain Hawks late in the first half.
LIU boasts a young roster that features 20 underclassmen and six seniors after graduating six seniors from the 2011 squad, including a pair of Northeast Conference second-team honorees. The Blackbirds finished ninth in the NEC a year ago with a 5-10-3 overall record and a 3-6-1 conference mark and were picked to finish ninth again in the preseason poll. LIU scored just 20 goals in 18 games last season and will be led by two-time All-NEC selection Jakeem Johnson, the team's top returning scorer who tallied eight points on three goals and two assists in 2011.
Friday's match marks the first-ever meeting between the Colonials and Blackbirds.
2012 GW Men's Soccer Preview
The George Washington men's soccer team was picked to finish 13th in the 2011 Atlantic 10 preseason poll.
The GW men did a little bit better than that.
After posting a 2-4-2 out-of-conference mark, GW went 7-2 against A-10 opponents to claim a share of the league's regular-season crown. As the No. 2 seed in the A-10 Championship, the Colonials earned a bye to the semifinals, where they defeated La Salle in dramatic fashion before falling to Xavier on penalty kicks in the title match after playing to a 1-1 draw through 110 minutes.
Head coach George Lidster, the Atlantic 10 Coach of the Year and the program's all-time winningest coach, retired following the season, leaving the team in the capable hands of his long-time assistant and former player, Craig Jones. A four-year letterwinner at GW, Jones ('99) coached alongside Lidster for 10 years, including the last three as his top assistant.
"As an alum and member of George's coaching staff for many years, this is truly a dream job for me," Coach Jones said at the time of his promotion. "I am extremely appreciative of the opportunity GW is giving me to continue to grow the momentum that our group gained as the season progressed."
Because Coach Jones is already familiar with the team and was involved in recruiting the incoming class, he does not believe the transition will be too tough for the players.
"From the team perspective, I think the biggest adjustment is to imprint my philosophy and get the guys to buy into what I want to do and how I want us to play," he said.
The Colonials return 14 letterwinners, including six starters, from last season's squad and add a large incoming class of nine freshmen and two transfers to the mix, and Coach Jones believes many of them will have a chance to see some good minutes right from the start.
With the addition of Butler and VCU to the Atlantic 10 Conference, the league has expanded to an eight-team tournament, and Coach Jones looks to guide his alma mater to the A-10 Championship in back-to-back seasons for the first time since the 2003 and 2004 campaigns.
GW boasted one of the top offenses in the A-10 last season thanks to the dynamic scoring duo of Yoni Berhanu and Seth Rudolph, who accounted for nearly two-thirds of the Colonials' 30 goals on the year.
While Berhanu, the 2011 A-10 Midfielder of the Year, graduated, Rudolph is back for his senior season following first-team all-conference honors a year ago, when he ranked fifth in the league with eight goals. Rudolph, who has scored 18 goals in the last two seasons and 22 in his career, needs just five goals and eight points to join GW's all-time top-10 list in both categories.
"Seth's track record in terms of being able to score on the collegiate level certainly makes him our go-to guy this year," Coach Jones said.
Jones looks for junior Tyler Ranalli to step up to help fill the void left by Berhanu. Ranalli, who was recently named a team co-captain along with Rudolph and senior Alejandro Almodovar, started six games last season and recorded three points. In addition, freshman Jonny Forrest - one of four British players on the team - should contribute right away.
"Tyler did very well last year in terms of his link-up play; the only thing missing from his game was the goals," Coach Jones said. "Obviously we will be looking for him to get on the score sheet a little bit more, but sometimes the work that he does off the ball is overlooked. Jonny has a little bit more experience than some of our other freshmen, so we expect him to make an immediate impact."
Junior Francisco Solorzano will also provide depth on the front line.
The Colonials possess a strong returning nucleus of midfielders, led by Zach Abaie, Bailey Hinners, Joe Holleran and Farhan Khan. The quartet made 50 combined starts last season and tallied 17 points.
Abaie, now a senior, came on strong during A-10 play, scoring six of his eight points against conference opponents, while Hinners, a rising junior led the team with five assists on the year. Holleran and Khan, who both saw significant playing time in their rookie campaigns, teamed up for the Colonials' most dramatic goal of the year - the golden goal in the 108th minute of the Atlantic 10 semifinals against La Salle to advance to the title match.
"Midfield is an area where we have strength right now," Coach Jones said. "These are four guys who saw substantial minutes last year; that's a good core to have coming back."
Junior Alex Sandland is a staple on defense, and Jones looks for him to build on a solid sophomore season and potentially add some goals to his game. Fellow Englishman Matthew Scott earned Atlantic 10 All-Rookie Team honors last season following an impressive debut campaign.
Sandland and Scott will be joined on the backline by sophomore Andri Alexandersson, a transfer from Florida International. The native of Iceland made four starts as a freshman for the Golden Panthers and scored a pair of goals.
Despite limited action in his first two seasons in the Buff and Blue, senior Daniel Ripperger-Suhler could earn a starting spot on the outside. Jones also looks for junior Abdul Shaban to step up this season and push to start at left back.
Freshman Glen Sousa gives the Colonials options anywhere on the left side, while classmate Philip McQuitty, a highly decorated player out of Northern Virginia, should see minutes at center back or in the midfield.
The Colonials posted a 1.11 goals-against average in 2011, the fourth-best mark in the Atlantic 10, thanks in part to Alejandro Almodovar, who recorded three shutouts among his seven starts between the pipes. The senior is the most experienced of GW's goalkeeping unit, but he will be pushed by redshirt freshman Jean-Pierre van der Merwe and sophomore Luke Farrell.
South African native van der Merwe sat out his true freshman season at Akron, which advanced to the NCAA Tournament Sweet 16, while Farrell also did not see any action as a rookie but improved his stock with a strong spring.
"I think goalkeeper is an area where I am going to have the most trouble naming a starter," Coach Jones said. "Alex has the experience of playing games, but JP has a good background, and Luke's effort has been great and I think he's put himself right in the picture."
While freshman Jack Lopez lacks the collegiate experience of the other three, he will look to learn under the tutelage of the veteran trio.
GW will host eight games at the GW Soccer Field on the Mount Vernon Campus as part of its 18-match schedule. The Colonials will face six of the top eight teams in the A-10 preseason poll during the regular season, including a season-ending trip to preseason favorite and NCAA College Cup runner-up Charlotte on Nov. 3
"One thing I've learned over the past few years is that the Atlantic 10 Conference gets better and better each year, and every game is a difficult one," Coach Jones said. "Two teams on the schedule - UMass and Charlotte - have reached the Final Four in the past five years, and the additions of VCU and Butler, both of whom we play on the road this year, only adds to the level of play in the conference."
The 2012 Atlantic 10 Championship will be held at the 49ers' Transamerica Field Nov. 8-11.