Towards the end of practice Wednesday afternoon, the No. 4 Georgetown men’s soccer team (15-2-1, 6-2-0 Big East) separated itself into two teams on the far side of Multi-Sport Field.
Sophomore Tomas Gomez and junior Keon Parsa alternated between the pipes as their teammates individually stepped up to the spot 12 yards from the net and competed to put it past them.
The intent behind the drill was clear: With postseason play now upon them, the Hoyas cannot afford to miss penalty kicks as they did Saturday against Seton Hall.
Although the team eked out a 1-0 win, the Blue and Gray’s two penalty kick miscues could have cost it dearly. Beginning with their Big East tournament quarterfinal against No. 13 St. John’s (10-3-4, 4-3-1 Big East) tomorrow, the staff and players recognize that there will be no such margin for error.
“If you try to make a run in the Big East tournament or NCAA tournament, the further you go, you’re probably going to run into PKs somewhere along the road,” said senior midfielder Ian Christianson, who failed to convert his team’s first kick in the fifteenth minute against the Pirates. “[The coaching staff is] just putting pressure on us in practice so if that time comes, we’ll be more prepared for it.”
By now, Christianson and Head Coach Brian Wiese are more familiar than they would like to be with losing in postseason shootouts. DePaul ended Georgetown’s season that way in the 2009 conference tourney, and North Carolina did the same in the second round of the NCAA tournament the following year.
“The teams you play are too good and the margins are too little to expect that you’re going to just win every one of those games [straight up],“ Wiese said.
Wednesday’s practice represented the team’s first on-ball action since Saturday’s victory, with Hurricane Sandy allowing only for a bit of cardio work early Monday.
Unsurprisingly, the team was not at its sharpest on its first day back, but Wiese and Christianson were confident that as soon as the rust wore off, it would be ready to go.
And the Hoyas will have to be ready, too, with the challenge that lies ahead of them this weekend.
Finishing tied with Connecticut for first in the Blue Division — and thus earning a share of the Big East title — the Hoyas received a bye to the quarterfinals. Their subsequent opponent, though, is hardly a reward.
St. John’s, winner of seven Big East championships under current Head Coach Dave Masur, is the defending tournament champion and historically the best postseason Big East team.
This year’s Red Storm, while only a No. 3 seed in the Red Division, is no slouch, either.
Having resided in the Top 25 the entire season — having reached as high as No. 10 — the Johnnies were undefeated through their first eight contests. A respectable 3-0 shorthanded loss on the road to then-No. 2 UConn ended the streak, but only two one-goal defeats have followed.
Christianson fully understands the threat the visitors will present.
“They like to press — they play very quick,” he said. “We know that it’s going to be a good game. We’re just going to continue to play how we have throughout the season. I don’t think we’re going to change too much, but we’ll definitely respect them when they come [down] here.”
The Blue and Gray’s goal all season has been to reach the semifinals at Red Bull Arena, and though they may now be just a game away, it is a game that they are not daring to look past.
Instead of letting their minds wander to the future, Wiese and his players are focusing on the here and now. And the one common feeling among them does not appear to be one of nervousness but rather of anticipation.
“This is a team that’s ready for the challenge, and I think they’re excited about it,” Wiese said. “There’s no shame in losing any of these games along the way, but it’s an exciting prospect to try to figure out how to advance to the next round.”
Wiese also predicted that the big stage would make the game even more intense.
“[Saturday will be] a great game — it’s a big game. We’ve just got to channel what we’re doing into what we think we need to do to get a result against one of the better teams in the country.”
Kickoff in Georgetown’s quarterfinal game against St. John’s is scheduled for 1 p.m. at North Kehoe Field.