On Thursday night, the Georgetown men’s soccer team ended its season unusually early. The Hoyas finished with their first losing record in nine years and now prepare to enter a long off-season, in all likelihood missing the NCAA Tournament.
At the end of its 3-0 defeat to the Creighton Bluejays (10-5-3, 5-3-1 Big East) in Nebraska, the Hoyas missed out on clinching the sixth and final spot in the Big East tournament, effectively ending their season. The squad finished in seventh place in the Big East with a record of 6-9-2 (3-4-2 Big East).
Despite a clear drop-off in talent from last year’s record-breaking Georgetown team, the 2016 Hoyas still performed well under the expectations set forth for them. The Blue and Gray lost seven of last year’s starters, six of whom entered Major League Soccer — most notably Philadelphia Union All-Star defender Keegan Rosenberry and New York Red Bulls starting midfielder Alex Muyl, talents not easily replaced.
Particularly important was the fact that all four starting defenders from last season were gone.
Nevertheless, Georgetown started the season ranked No. 10 in the nation. The forecast for the season was for high-scoring matches — the experienced offense would flourish, but the new defensive line would need time to find cohesion. The exact opposite occurred.
Through the first nine games, the Hoyas scored just four goals. At first, chance creation was a problem as well, when Georgetown averaged only five shots per game in the first three games.
On the other hand, the defense earned praise. Poised sophomore goalkeeper J.T. Marcinkowski defended the net exceptionally as expected, but unexpected was the quick cohesion and strength of a back line composed of three sophomores and one freshman. The defense allowed an average of one goal per game through the first nine games.
In this unexpected plot twist, the offense was the cause of concern, and the defense was the source of strength. Most games, it seemed as if luck would not allow the offense to catch a break. Following the inadequate shot totals to start the season, chances came for Georgetown. The offense showed sparks of creativity, and speedy freshman forward Achara showed glimpses of promise with his flashy play that jumpstarted the offense in some games.
However, despite these chances, watching the Blue and Gray try to score goals was excruciating — the team would come close to scoring game after game, but would rarely score more than one goal or get shut out. The Hoyas were shut out in eight out of 17 games this season.
For the players and Head Coach Brian Wiese, the belief was that droughts like these are part of the game of soccer, but that soon enough nature would take its course and the ball would find the net. Nature never took its course despite the resilience of the players.
Watching each game was agonizing— adequate chance creation and shots, with a distinct lack of creativity, rhythm and balance to the team. There was no growth in goal scoring, with just a few exceptions that were too little too late, such as the 3-2 win over Villanova (10-6-3, 5-3-1 Big East) in the penultimate game of the season.
Unfortunately, despite high expectations, a lack of offensive creativity and innovative talent was the downfall for the Hoyas.
The one hope to cure this was the aforementioned Achara, who, despite this, never found a rhythm because of a nagging foot injury he suffered early in the season.
After him, senior forward and co-captain Brett Campbell led the team with four goals, an unspectacularly low number for any team’s leading goal scorer.
Players such as Campbell, or even junior midfielder Arun Basuljevic — who was just named Second Team All Big East — are clearly exceptional offensive players. They have experience and good positioning on the pitch, and they make superb decisions on the ball.
However, they did not show the creativity and technical skill needed to break down defenses this season. A lack of offensive skill, a problem that Georgetown did not have in last year’s Big East Championship campaign, allows opposing defense to sit back and absorb pressure without giving up goals.
Many teams were able to employ this defensive tactic against the Hoyas and stifle their attacks.
Furthermore, finishing was a huge problem when the Blue and Gray were in positions to score. Whether it was players too often looking to pass instead of burying the ball past the keeper or simply making poor shots, the straightforward task of finishing troubled Georgetown.
Even on set pieces, it was not the service of Basuljevic or junior midfielder Chris Lema that was to blame, but rather the lack of finishing.
For the Hoyas, this will be a season to forget, especially after last year’s successes. But the future is bright for Georgetown. It will be returning nearly all the same talented players from this year with an additional year of experience. Standout keeper Marcinkowski will likely still be in net, and Achara will attract the attention of many opposing defenses if he stays healthy. Freshman midfielder Dylan Nealis may arguably be the best defender on the team.
With so much talent under Wiese, there is reason for hope for next year. There are many young players with vast potential, and this year’s team clearly performed below its capabilities. If these players have a sense of pride — which is more than evident from their attempts to rally at season’s end — they will be motivated to redeem this year’s failures and surpass next year’s expectations.
Darius Iraj is a sophomore in the College.
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