MEN'S SOCCER | GU Slips Past JMU, Pittsburgh Up Next
Published: Thursday, September 27, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, October 2, 2012 00:10
Before Tuesday, 15 straight opponents had entered University Park at James Madison without leaving the pitch victorious. Even the defending national champions, North Carolina, were not immune to JMU’s strength at home, as the top-ranked Tar Heels traveled to Harrisonburg, Va., on Sept. 11 and returned home to Chapel Hill with a fresh L on their previously unblemished record.
Georgetown would not be resigned to the same fate on Tuesday.
Instead, the No. 5 Hoyas (9-0-1, 1-0-0 Big East) took the lead in the 62nd minute off a goal from sophomore midfielder Tom Skelly, and they held on from there to grab the 1-0 win and break the Dukes’ two-year home undefeated streak.
“The continued ability for the guys to get results whether we’re at home or on the road has been really great,” Head Coach Brian Wiese said. “We’re really happy. Winning’s a habit, losing’s a habit and [JMU is] just comfortable not losing at home. That’s just in their mentality.
“During the game, I [turned to my staff] and said, ‘You can see why they haven’t lost here for a while.’ They’re hard to deal with, they’re hard to play against."
In the end, the Blue and Gray handled their hosts better than anyone since 2010, but the win nonetheless remained in doubt until the final whistle.
Neither team truly was able to threaten the opposing goal in the opening half, as the two squads combined for just three shots on goal on 10 total shots in the period.
Several set-piece chances arose for Georgetown off of the corner kicks of junior forward Steve Neumann, but it was not until the second half that each team’s offense began to get more of a foothold in the game.
From there, it did not take long before the game opened up, leading to the contest’s first goal.
Skelly — who came back from an early-season injury just a week ago — received a long ball in the 62nd minute from freshman striker Brandon Allen and found the bottom right corner from about 10 yards out to put the Hoyas on the board.
“It was a very good ball by Brandon that played him through, and it was a great first touch and a great finish,” Wiese said. “Brandon and [senior midfielder Andy] Riemer have been carrying a lot of the load for us, [so] we wanted to start seeing production from some other places, and Skelly took a great goal.”
After taking the lead, Georgetown had the upper hand with possession and dictated the game’s tempo. However, with the final 10 minutes approaching, desperation set in for JMU, who made a big offensive push in the waning moments.
The Dukes began to throw more numbers forward and play more directly, launching a number of balls into the Blue and Gray’s 18-yard box for their exceptionally tall lineup to run onto.
Even with senior centerback Tommy Muller sidelined — his status is day to day with a leg tweak and was rested as a precaution — the Hoyas still managed to hang on.
The central pairing of junior defender Ted Helfrich and freshman midfielder Cole Seiler did its job well under the pressure of the JMU barrage, and junior goalkeeper Keon Parsa made five saves for his third clean sheet in as many starts this season.
While the ending was not ideal, Wiese noted that to pull out the win in such a difficult environment was all that mattered.
“You’re not going to go into a place like James Madison and run the game for 90 minutes,” Wiese said. “The last 15 minutes, I think, the boys got a little bit more conservative and didn’t want to concede, versus trying to get the [knockout blow].”
Wiese was also quick to reiterate that simply notching the victory was more important than the margin.
“It’s better to win all your games, 1-0, than winning eight of them, 5-0, and losing one of them, 1-0,” Wiese said. “It’s a great result, and we’ll take it, and now we can focus on the Big East for a little while."
And focus they must, with a trip to Pittsburgh on Saturday serving as a precursor to their banner conference matchup Wednesday with No. 2 UConn (8-0-1, 1-0-0).
Not getting sidetracked by that home meeting with the Huskies will be key for Georgetown on Saturday, since the Panthers (6-2-2, 0-1-0) are no slouches themselves.
Undefeated until a conference loss to Cincinnati last Saturday, Pittsburgh has now dropped two straight, its most recent a 3-1 defeat at the hands of Navy. The team has a new home this season, leaving its off-campus rented polo grounds behind in favor of a new, better-kept on-campus facility.
“It’s a resurgent Pitt team. They’ve had several years going into this one where they were really trying to find their way. [They] were always a hard game but were on the losing side more [often] than not,” Wiese said. “I think the biggest difference for them this year is that they feel like they’re going to go into every game and get a win.”
But while the change of venue has facilitated the quality and duration of practices — in addition to increasing fan presence at games — the improved field should also allow the Hoyas to play their characteristic brand of possession-based soccer, a style that the Panthers have adopted this season as well. The Blue and Gray know that they will have to be at their best to be able to grab a win — and the resulting three points — in Big East play.
“They’re going to be a team that’s going to require our full attention,” Wiese said.
Opening kickoff is set for 7 p.m. in Pittsburgh, Pa.