With just three NCAA tournament appearances to its credit since its founding in 1950, the Georgetown men’s soccer team entered 2012 once again with modest expectations.
Its season-opening ranking — or rather, the lack of one — reflected that.
But an overtime win over Virginia, which boasts six national titles, including one as recently as 2009, gave a hint out of the gates that this time around might finally be different, and the Blue and Gray quickly jumped into the top 25 in the second week of play. They never looked back.
Florida Gulf Coast, a school that would ultimately prove to be the men’s basketball team’s downfall, was the victim in game two, and Georgetown cruised early to a 10-0-1 record.
The season’s first hardship would follow.
Ranked No. 3 in the country, Georgetown played host to No. 2 UConn at North Kehoe Field on Oct. 3, and what the players and staff believed to be a poor officiating decision ended up costing them in a 2-1 Connecticut final.
“I’m setting my wall up, and I always ask, ‘Ref, whistle. Ref, whistle,’” junior goalkeeper Keon Parsa told The Hoya in October. “I didn’t hear a response. I’m lining up my wall, and out of nowhere, they just slot it in. He didn’t call it back, and I was so shocked.”
A 3-0 loss to Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind., made it two straight for the previously undefeated Hoyas, but the team rattled off six wins from there on out to fulfill what had been its goal all season long: make the Big East tournament semifinals.
From the start, freshman striker Brandon Allen, who beat even standout junior forward Steve Neumann as Georgetown’s leading scorer, delivered the extra time game-winner against Marquette to send his side through to the final for the first time in program history. But while the Blue and Gray held a one-goal lead with under a minute to go in their rematch with the Irish, a late collapse would see them go once again to extra time and allow a golden goal right before they were set to begin penalty kicks.
“It’s a gutting loss — I’m gutted for our guys because I think they deserved more than that and I’d like to see someone construct a more painful way to lose a game,” Head Coach Brian Wiese said.
Strong senior leadership always helps after crushing defeats like that one, though, and the Hoyas had it in spades. Central midfielder Ian Christianson, left back Jimmy Nealis, center back Tommy Muller and winger Andy Riemer would all be drafted by Major League Soccer after the season, and their ability to pick their team back up and drive it all the way to the national championship exemplified why. Neumann may have been the team’s star — he was named most outstanding offensive player of the College Cup after a hat trick against Maryland — but Georgetown’s all-important mentality trickled down from its professionally minded senior class.
Largely as a result of that mindset, at the end of the season, Wiese and Co. found themselves far deeper in the tournament than any Georgetown team had gone since the program’s inception. An Elite Eight matchup with San Diego saw likely the biggest crowd in North Kehoe history, and an epic 4-4 shootout win over Maryland in the semis followed in Hoover, Ala.
In the final, Georgetown would fall just short, being shut out for just the second time all season in a 1-0 loss to Indiana. A late header from Muller hit the crossbar, and the magical run came to a heartbreaking close.
“We just kept pressing. We didn’t really change our mentality until [there were] two minutes left and we started just putting stuff in the box,” Christianson said. “I think the guys played their hearts out today.”
Sickeningly close as they may have come, for the future, 2012 meant everything for the Georgetown men’s soccer program.
As far as sports are concerned, the Hilltop has long been associated primarily with its men’s basketball team. If Wiese can keep the momentum going, maybe — just maybe — that could no longer be the case.