The Georgetown men’s soccer team entered the 2016 season with high expectations despite losing eight players from last year’s roster, including all four starting defenders.
Last season, the Blue and Gray completed one of its most successful seasons in program history, finishing the season 16-2-3 overall, which included an 18-game undefeated streak. Six of these players are now with major-league teams, leaving big shoes to fill.
However, many pundits and analysts believe this year’s team can have success despite these losses. The NSCAA Preseason Poll ranked the Hoyas No. 10, and TopDrawerSoccer.com named three players, junior midfielder Arun Basuljevic, sophomore keeper JT Marcinkowski, and freshman forward Achara, to its Preseason Best XI.
Marcinkowski is a player with especially exciting potential this season. He spent much of this summer training with the United States Men’s National Team’s U-20 team and was named the Big East Preseason Goalkeeper of the Year. He was named a co-captain this spring, despite being just a sophomore, and has proven to be a great leader.
“He’s a natural-born leader. It’s not easy to do that as a sophomore and he’s embraced it really well,” Head Coach Brian Wiese said. “He’s going to be pretty special by the time it’s all said and done.”
Georgetown also has eight new freshmen and one junior transfer filling the roster this year. Highlighting this freshman class are forward Achara and midfielder Dylan Nealis. Achara, who was born in Nigeria, had a decorated career prior to Georgetown. He moved to the United States for high school, and attended the Berkshire School in Massachusetts, where he was named to the Best 11 at the High School All-American Game and won numerous championships with his club team.
Now, through four games, Achara has been one of the only bright spots, scoring a goal against top-ranked Maryland. In last weekend’s game against Virginia Tech, he showed flashes of brilliance with the ball at his feet, and track-like speed on a breakaway in which he nearly scored.
“He’s a player that I think Hoya fans should be really excited to come and watch. He’s a really fun player out there,” Wiese said. “He’s a problem for the teams, but I think we’ll make sure that he’s coming along nice and slow, and he’s part of the bigger picture at the end of the day.”
Additionally, Nealis has proven to be a more than capable replacement on the defensive line that featured four future MLS players last year. Nealis, whose brother Jimmy defended for Georgetown from 2009-2012, hails from Massapequa, New York. He was named to the TopDrawerSoccer.com 2015 U18 Development Academy Showcase Best XI. Thus far, he has started three out of the Hoyas’ four games for the defense. His combination of athleticism and technical ability is a handful for opposing teams to deal with.
Other new faces, such as freshman forward Davey Mason and junior forward Zach Knudsen, have made impacts as well. The growth of these players will help to facilitate a good transition to this year’s team after losing so many players.
“This season was going to be a learning experience just because we have a lot of new pieces and we’re playing a completely different style than we have in the past, so it was just kind of transitioning from the past to the new and it’s been tough for the beginning but I feel like we’re starting to come together,” senior midfielder and co-captain Bakie Goodman said. “Everybody’s going to be big. There’s a lot of promise. A lot of young depth out there.”
Despite these promising young players and a high ranking, the Blue and Gray have faltered significantly to start the season. They currently stand at 0-4, losing four straight games by one goal — and that deciding goal has come within the last 10 minutes of the match every time. Although the defense has struggled to preserve ties late in games, they have performed well, allowing just five goals this season.
On the other hand, the offense has garnered a lot of criticism. They have scored just one goal in these four games. However, its chance creation has improved — Georgetown shot 14 times in its last game against Virginia Tech — but averaging 0.25 goals per game simply is not good enough.
“It’s been tough. It’s been getting better. I think the first couple games we had like three shots total,” Goodman said. “It’ll come. We’re a little snake-bitten right now. It’ll come. It’s a long season.”
Although the team is indeed a little snake-bitten, there is still plenty of reason for optimism. Last year’s historic squad was also in a similar predicament, opening its season 0-2-1. The team started six underclassmen on Monday, so there is plenty of room for improvement for these young Hoyas.
“I still believe in this group, I think this is a very talented group and I think that we can be right there at the end with where we want to be with getting some post-season runs in us,” Wiese said. “But, we got to figure out a few things, and we got to do it pretty quick.”
The team continues their season Saturday against the University of Connecticut at 1 p.m. on Shaw Field.