With senior centerback Tommy Muller sidelined by a tweaked leg muscle, it looked as if Georgetown would struggle to contain the potent attackers of Cal State Northridge on Friday afternoon at North Kehoe Field.
But freshman Cole Seiler — fresh off his own, preseason injury — stepped into the starting lineup and the Hoya defense hardly skipped a beat. When fellow freshman Brandon Allen, scored in his second-straight game, giving his team an early lead. From there, the Hoyas kept a clean sheet to secure a gritty 1-0 win.
In Muller’s absence, his usual partner, junior Ted Helfrich — making only the third start of his career, all coming this season — was thrust into the role of backline leader and helped shepherd Seiler to a solid collegiate debut.
Georgetown Head Coach Brian Wiese had high praise for the California native’s performance and attitude after the game.
“Teddy doesn’t have a lot of minutes under his belt coming into this year as a junior, but he’s one of these kids that’s been working and been very patient,” Wiese said. “He’s gotten his opportunity to start this year, and we’re 3-0 with him in the center of the defense. That’s a credit to him and the group.”
Helfrich was quick to emphasize that group aspect, rather than his individual efforts, in the aftermath of his team’s win.
“Tommy, we think, is definitely one of the best centerbacks in the country,” he said. “But luckily we also think we’re deep enough to play with anyone in the country, [even if] we lose someone.”
That is the depth that Wiese had emphasized before the season began, believing that it would be the key to the Hoyas securing their final goal of a Big East tournament semifinals appearance.
“We talk a lot about being a deep team, and today we had to be a deep team,” Wiese added. “We used a lot of guys, a lot of subs, and Cole and Ted managed it [in the back], which is great.”
And on a day when temperatures on the Kehoe turf reached as much as 97 degrees, that depth was readily apparent. Wiese seemed to be more reluctant to go to the bench in the last game against Florida Gulf Coast, but the humidity gave him little choice but to do so on Friday.
“[The heat] definitely made some guys get heavy legs,” Helfrich said. “I got some heavy legs. It was tiring, but we were able to [push] through it.”
It was hardly all about the defense on the afternoon, however, as Georgetown was able to possess the ball for long stretches, especially in the first half. Junior Steve Neumann, who didn’t have a great showing against FGCU, was a big help along with junior midfielder Joey Dillon and senior midfielder Ian Christianson in allowing the Blue and Gray to keep the ball for much of the opening 45 minutes.
The result was chants of “Olé!” from the crowd as the Hoyas pinged the ball around the field and kept the Matador defenders chasing.
“That’s what we like to think we can do,” Wiese said of his team’s possession. “I think Northridge came out a little flat, for them, and […] we had the ball for a lot of that first half, certainly in the first 30 minutes. But I would’ve liked to have seen us generate a little more [in terms of chances] during that period.”
The eventual game-winner did come in that span, though, off of a sequence that began when freshman right back Keegan Rosenberry was fed the ball on an overlap deep along the right flank. Rosenberry sent it in near-post where his classmate Allen was making a smart run, and the striker bundled it into the net.
Allen actually had nearly scored just a minute earlier, hitting the post hard with a left-footed laser that would have been almost a perfect replica of his Gulf Coast game-winner had it gone in. Overall, the woodwork was definitely more friend than foe for Georgetown in this one, with Northridge rattling the goal frame on a handful of occasions after the break.
The Blue and Gray, it must be said, came out a bit flat in that second half, allowing the visitors back into the game. While the first half-hour suggested GU might coast to an easy win, the second put the result very much in doubt.
“You’re playing a really good Cal State Northridge team, and they came out [in the second half] knowing that they needed a goal,” Wiese explained. “Thank goodness the goal is eight feet by eight yards, because [if it were any bigger,] it could’ve been — and maybe should’ve been — 1-1. I think we dodged a couple bullets.
“You just have to be able to be resilient enough to handle those stretches [where the other team is controlling the game], and I thought we had a little bit of luck but also tightened the belt a little bit [in the final 20 minutes].”
There will be little time to recover for the Hoyas, who face Penn State on Sunday. That quick turnaround, coupled with the heat they were forced to play through against CSUN, is sure to make things difficult, but Helfrich believes that his team will be up to the task.
“It’ll be tough [playing Penn State so soon], but we’re going to prepare well enough that it shouldn’t be too much of a problem,” he said.
Kickoff against the Nittany Lions is set for 1 p.m., also at North Kehoe Field.