‘WE CAN BEAT ANYONE’
Historically, it wasn’t a common thought.
As a program with just three NCAA tournament appearances to its name since its inception in 1950, Georgetown men’s soccer typically was, as the cliche goes, just happy to be there. The Class of 2012 would prove an exception.
And, as the season progressed, merely winning a couple games upon getting ‘there’ proved equally insufficient. Senior center back Tommy Muller and his classmates weren’t going to settle.
“I remember talking to [central midfielder] Ian [Christianson] the summer before our senior year, and we were just saying, ‘Let’s go win a national championship. Let’s go out on top, like let’s do it,’” Muller, now with the San Jose Earthquakes, said. “We said it to each other kind of casually, but as the season went on and we were in the top 10, top five, we were like, ‘Wow, we could actually win this.’
“That’d always been a goal, that’d always been the dream, but I think it was in the preseason when we started to train and things looked really good, we kind of all looked at each other and said, ‘We can beat anyone.’”
Unranked to start the season, Georgetown entered the top 25 after a season-opening victory over Virginia, a program with six national titles to its credit.
And the wins just kept on coming from there, to the point where — after a blistering 10-0-1 start — the greater Washington media had no choice but to take notice.
As Washington Post Soccer Insider Steve Goff put it, “They earned the coverage.”
Out of nowhere and really for the first time, Georgetown soccer had made itself relevant in 2012. And it more than lived up to its place in the spotlight, losing just two games over the course of the entire regular season and finishing in a four-way tie for the No. 1 seed in the Big East tournament.
The wins came from contributors both young — freshman striker Brandon Allen had 10 game-winning goals on the year — and old — Christianson controlled the tempo in the middle of the park, while Muller was a rock-solid backline general for a team that let up more than one goal in regulation just three times all year.
“Players jumped in immediately and had a great impact, and I think it was just all of those pieces: having the right players, having the right mentality, and the experience was huge, too,” Muller said. “All of that kind of came together.
Where it would all fall apart, though, was in the Big East tournament final at the Philadelphia Union’s PPL Park, as a lead over Notre Dame with under a minute to go slipped agonizingly away.
It would have been the first tournament title in program history, but a devastated Wiese and Co. picked their heads up and carried on.
And on. And on.
Seeded atop its region for the NCAA tournament, the Hoyas were, in theory, ‘supposed’ to make it through to the College Cup in Hoover, Ala. And, even without much experience to draw from, they played like it, mounting second-half comebacks against both Big East foe Syracuse in the Sweet 16 and San Diego in the Elite Eight.
The latter game was a surprise, though, and not for what transpired on the field. The reason? North Kehoe Field, for the first time all season, was standing room only.
“It was incredible, the amount of support we got [against San Diego] from the student body, from alums,” Muller said. “We never really expected a big crowd at home games — that was kind of just the norm.”
If the past five months are any indication, it’s not the norm anymore.
Georgetown escaped local foe Maryland in the Final Four, and Indiana was up after that in the national championship. Athletic Director Lee Reid would organize a road trip to Alabama for the title game, and Hoya Blue didn’t take long to run out of seats.
“We filled out the road trip in like an hour,” former Hoya Blue communications director Sam Kareff (SFS ’13) said. “It was really just an hour. It was awesome.”
The fans who embarked on that 26-hour round trip may not have witnessed their team get the chance to raise the trophy — the Hoyas would be shut out for just the second time all season in a 1-0 heartbreaker — but they were witnesses to the completion of their program’s rise.
THE QUESTION OF STAYING POWER
In the months after that title game, Hoya Blue saw its membership experience a dramatic spike, and a spring friendly against William & Mary brought in more fans to North Kehoe than early regular season games even had in 2012. Investment in the men’s soccer program is at an undeniable all-time high.
“When I walk around campus, [students now] want to talk to you about it, and they start having a familiarity with what the team is,” Wiese said. “That happens all over the place — they want to talk about the team.”
“Everyone’s really interested in [the team] now, even MLS stuff,” Kareff added. “That would have never happened three years ago.”
But the 2012 team’s impact goes far beyond putting people in the stands and those passing conversations in the quad.
Wiese said that his 2013 recruiting class had all committed to Georgetown before the College Cup, but the impact of last season is sure to resonate in the classes to follow.
“In the past, it was harder for Georgetown, because there weren’t soccer scholarships, the academic demands were so high that they’d lose out on a lot of guys and most of the best players would end up in the ACC,” Goff said. “But with the quality of the school that [Wiese] has to offer and the rise of the program, he’s been able to get these players who are of international caliber.”
Two such players would be Allen, who featured in World Cup qualifiers this spring for the United States Under-20 national team, and sophomore goalkeeper Tomas Gomez, who played a bit for the U-20s last year. Both will surely get looks from MLS, following in the footsteps of Muller, Christianson, winger Andy Riemer and left back Jimmy Nealis, all of whom were drafted by the league following this past season.
And with those success stories is sure to come even more talent along the Georgetown pipeline. One year does not a program make, as Neumann pointed out, but Wiese has certainly put himself in an enviable position going forward.
“If you’re a sailboat and you get a puff of wind, it gets you going, but if that wind dies, the sailboat eventually slows down and starts drifting,” Wiese said. “And the answer to that is a good team, that’s the wind that keeps the sailboat moving.”
The sailboat will surely be moving to start off the 2013 season. It’s just the matter of how far and for how long that remains up in the air.
Not that that’s stopped some from trying to figure it out.
“What if we became a soccer school?” Kareff asked, echoing Wiese’s comments at the team’s welcome-back rally following the College Cup. “That would completely transform everyone’s undergrad experience and make it completely different. But it’s a cool thing to think about.”
For many on the Hilltop, it might also appear an absurd thing to think about. A short time ago, however, it would have been considerably more so.
Before 2012, just five players all time had been drafted out of Georgetown by Major League Soccer, none had become stars and only Dan Gargan (MSB ’05) was still on an active roster.
The stands had been empty. The fans apathetic. The College Cup a pipe dream.
Then, somehow, over the course of just 26 wild games, everything changed.