For a men’s soccer program that previously had just three all-time tournament appearances to its credit, 2012 marked a breakthrough.
The journey truly started in Spain, as a spring break trip to Barcelona, — according to players and coaches alike — somehow made something click within the team. There may be no more beautiful style of “The Beautiful Game” than that employed by Lionel Messi and Co. at Camp Nou, and Head Coach Brian Wiese’s squad got to witness the magic firsthand.
But the Barcelona trip wasn’t just about the pros. In fact, it may have been the FC Barcelona youth teams that ended up leaving the bigger impression on the Blue and Gray.
As Wiese told The Hoya in August, his players were “seeing kids that are their own age. They can see a little bit of themselves in there and go, ‘That guy’s pretty good, but we’re close.’”
Starting out the season unranked, an inspired Georgetown quickly made a name for itself in the early going, opening with a win over traditional powerhouse and local rival Virginia. Ten games later, theHoyas still hadn’t dropped a match, starting their slate 10-0-1 thanks to eight one-goal wins.
Many of the game-winning goals for the Blue and Gray came in the second half, and most of them came off the foot of standout freshman striker Brandon Allen. Named rookie of the year by a handful of different outlets after the season, Allen notched his first clutch tally in the team’s second game against Florida Gulf Coast and made it a habit from there; his 10th and final one would come in the first round of the NCAAs.
But it took a lot more than Allen to power Georgetown as far as it went. In fact, the main story of the squad in 2012 wasn’t the underclassmen — even with three featuring regularly in the starting lineup — but rather the seniors.
Center back Tommy Muller, central midfielder Ian Christianson, left back Jimmy Nealis and winger Andy Riemer had all tasted success on the Hilltop as sophomores when the team reached the second round before falling on penalty kicks to North Carolina. And they wanted a whole lot more.
The manifestation of the “true student-athlete” that Wiese targets on the recruiting trail, the quartet had a mentality that was quite revolutionary to the program: All four wanted to be professional soccer players. That may not sound like a novel idea at first glance, but one must keep in mind that, going into 2012, only five players had ever been drafted by Major League Soccer coming out of Georgetown.
Finding themselves the undisputed leaders as seniors, the group was able to mold the identity of the rest of the team after its own, and the results spoke for themselves: Share of the Big East regular season title. Big East tournament runners-up, mere seconds removed from an outright regulation victory. And, most impressively, national runners-up.
A hat trick from junior forward Steve Neumann against Maryland in the semifinals helped drive Georgetown through to the national championship game Dec. 9, where it took on the Indiana Hoosiers. A goal in the 64th minute would prove the Hoyas’ undoing, as a last-gasp header from Muller missed the goalmouth to end the match 1-0 in Hoover, Ala.
Just as was the case in Chester, Pa., for the Big East championship against Notre Dame, the national version was a gutting loss for Georgetown. The “what-if” heartbreakers, however, should not overshadow the very real and extremely important groundbreakers of the 2012 campaign.
Both in terms of recruiting and media coverage, Georgetown has now put itself firmly on the map. It will enter 2013 in the upper reaches of the polls, with Neumann a projected top-five MLS pick and his strike partner, Allen, one of a growing number of younger players with the potential to hang with the big boys. Rising sophomores Cole Seiler and Keegan Rosenberry will be strong anchors across a retooled backline, classmate Melvin Snoh looks ready for primetime in midfield and incoming recruit Joshua Yaro has all the makings of a star himself.
The senior class that changed it all may be gone, then, but here’s the scary thing for Georgetown’s 2013 opponents: Next year, it might very well be just as good.