Last year, the men’s soccer team opened the season with a 3-1 loss to a veteran American squad. Heading into the season opener Friday, the Eagles seemed likely to be a bit green, listing 14 freshmen on their roster.
But when the ball hit the turf at Reeves Field in the opening game of the Kuykenstrong D.C. College Cup, it was the Colonials who looked like they had never played together, dropping the game 2-0 after American scored two goals in the final 20 minutes.
“We didn’t capitalize. We played in a way I haven’t seen us play before,” head coach Craig Jones said. “When that happens, everything you plan for goes out the window.”
The Eagles set the standard for intensity: During the opening seconds, an American midfielder chased the kickoff and nailed the left back. Together, the two teams racked up 17 fouls.
The Colonials rotated offensively between juniors Ross Higgins and Phillip McQuitty, who started up top, sophomores Garrett Heine and Angel Valencia and junior Jonny Forrest, but GW could not find a groove. Though neither team had any memorable combination pieces in the first half, the Colonials didn’t see any legitimate scoring chances off long balls played for Higgins to run onto, taken away by the speed of the American defense.
GW settled what seemed to be season-opening nerves in the second half, playing the ball on the ground, stringing together passes and creating crosses, but still failed to find the back of the net. The Eagles outshot the Colonials 10-5 by the end of the game.
Junior goalkeeper Jean-Pierre van der Merwe, in his first regular season start after starting all three preseason games, protected the goal through the first 70 minutes. Van der Merwe made a save and a few pivotal grabs, but the post also rescued him from giving up a goal three times.
Eventually, the Eagles broke through, and they didn’t look back. After 73 minutes, American sophomore Joe Iraelo shot from the left side of the box eight yards from the net into the lower right, out of van der Merwe’s reach. Ten minutes later, junior Liam Robley bent a set piece into the right side of the net. Van der Merwe followed the initial trajectory toward the left side.
The Colonials were unable to mount a comeback, especially with the loss of senior Matthew Scott, who was given a yellow card and taken off the field with an injury substitution with nine minutes remaining. Officials also dealt Heine a yellow card in the game.
GW suffered from limited play from Forrest, who did not start because of tightness in his legs. Jones said that Forrest, who ranked second on the team with three goals last season, had practiced well up to the game but seemed best fit to come off the bench in the second half.
“We thought the timing was right,” Jones said. “He is going to get more minutes, but for today’s game, we thought we were better suited with how the guys have been doing in the 11 that we started.”
Other notable substitutions included freshmen Ismail Lapp-Kamara and Christian Lawal, who ended the first half and started the second half at left-back and right-midfield, respectively.
“We’re disappointed with the loss,” Jones said. “Unfortunately, I just didn’t think we played like we could. If we can play like we can, we’ll do well.”
The Colonials finish out the Kuykenstrong D.C. College Cup on Sunday at noon in a game against Howard University.