By: Liam O’Murchu
GW men’s soccer is off to a respectable start despite being ravaged by injuries early in the year. The team is 2-2-2 but has seen 12 players miss time due to injury, preventing them from finding any sort of early season rhythm.
After building a defense-first identity over the past few years, the Colonials offense has exploded thus far, scoring 12 goals, accounting for 66% of their output from all of last season. On the other hand, the team has struggled mightily defensively, especially on set pieces. The Buff & Blue have let up 12 goals so far, and five of them have come from set pieces (you can add a sixth if you include a penalty kick against Delaware).
Senior goalkeeper Justin Grady, who was named to the Atlantic 10 Preseason All-Conference Team, has been unable to recapture the form he had in spring 2021, when he boasted a 0.65 goals against average. In fact, a GW goalkeeper other than Grady started for the first time in 31 matches in the team’s 3-3 draw with Navy last week (redshirt junior Duncan Wegner).
In front of Grady sits three defenders, a departure from the four-back formations the team has played in recent years. Anchoring the backline is junior Lucas Matuszewski, who transferred from Pittsburgh for the spring semester of 2022. Matuszewski’s vocal leadership (and phenomenal 1v1 defending) have bolstered the Colonials defense in ways that don’t show up on the scoresheet. However, his time in Buff & Blue has been marred by lapses in focus, the most notable of which was during the team’s match with Columbia. After a hard foul on the goalkeeper, he was sent off for “fighting” an opposing player (I’ve made my thoughts known about the decision, check out my game recap if you haven’t already seen it).
To his right has been senior captain Ryan Cedeno, who has avoided the injury bug and started every game. On the other side, we’ve seen junior Aaron Kronenberg continue his development despite suffering a scary head injury in the spring. The Germany native has sported protective head gear in every game so far this season. However, the head gear hasn’t stopped him from scoring twice this season, both from headers.
A notable absence from the back line has been sophomore Sean Vaghedi, who looked set to step into a bigger role this season before suffering a lower body injury. Vaghedi started both preseason matches but has yet to feature in a regular season match.
Stationed in front of the backline is junior Carter Humm, who has been arguably the Colonials best player this year. Humm bounced around positions in his first two years at GW but has settled into a spot at defensive midfielder this year. His ability to cover ground and win 50-50s has been vital, and he has shown his versatility sliding into different positions in times of need.
Junior Tim Neumann and graduate student Alhaji Turay have been the other two regular starters in central midfield (although Turay missed the last game). They too have played an important role, helping the team transition into a new formation. They play in thankless roles, running hither and yon without getting the recognition some of the attackers do.
The next time you’re watching a game, keep an eye on the midfielders. They’ve slid under the radar but have been at the center of the team’s success this season.
Absent from the midfield is redshirt senior Grant Barrientos, who has been dealing with an injury. Barrientos has been an important member of the squad throughout his career, appearing in 36 matches over three seasons. He started the team’s first preseason match but hasn’t featured since.
Another important consideration when looking at the team’s midfield is Max Delyfer. The England native was a member of the Colonials incoming freshman class but signed with EFL Championship team Watford FC instead of coming to GW. Delyfer is a defensive midfielder who spent time in the Arsenal academy and featured for non-league club Potters Bar Town FC last season. He is spending time with Watford’s U-21 team and made the bench in the senior team’s EFL Cup loss to MK Dons on August 23. Delyfer’s absence is yet another obstacle the Colonials have been overcoming early this season.
On the outside, seniors Tom Cooklin and Roee Tenne have gotten the bulk of the starts, although Cooklin has missed two games due to injury. Cooklin has been a focal point of the Colonials attack, racking up two goals and two assists in four games (Both of the goals he’s scored have been bangers, and he nearly scored another one against Delaware). Tenne is one of six players to start every match in non-conference play and has showcased his two-way ability, assisting twice.
Senior Elias Norris has overcome an early season injury and made a big impact in the attack for GW, playing mostly down the left wing. Norris has used his blazing speed to get past defenders, and has parlayed it into two goals.
Up top, GW is led by a familiar face in graduate student Oscar Haynes Brown. The London, England native is in his sixth (!) year with the Colonials and sits sixth on the GW men’s soccer all-time goalscorers list with 33 goals. Unfortunately for Haynes Brown, his time in DC has been riddled with injuries, and this season has been no different. Since arriving in 2017, Haynes Brown has played in 54 of 85 possible matches. This year, he tallied two goals and an assist in his first four games, but has sat out the last two.
Other contributors in the attack include senior Tiago Carvalho, freshman Alex Nicholson, and sophomore Nico Krueger. Carvalho is another player who has started every match so far for GW, and he scored his first career goal in the team’s 2-1 win over Columbia. The skill (and left footedness) of the Portugal native has been an asset for the Buff & Blue on set pieces and in the attack in general.
Nicholson, a native of Newcastle, England, has adapted well to college soccer (and the heat of Washington DC). He scored his first goal in the team’s 2-1 loss to Mount St. Mary’s and has earned starts in the last two games. His speed, ability to get in behind, and willingness to press have been an important part of the Colonials early season success in the attack.
Krueger made a good impression in limited early season minutes, tallying two assists. However, he has also been bitten by the injury bug, missing the team’s last two games.
Looking at the conference schedule, the team managed to avoid perennial A-10 contenders Dayton and VCU this season. However they do have to make the trip to play a Loyola Chicago team that was one penalty kick away from the NCAA tournament last season and has started this year unbeaten.
Speaking of tournament teams, the Colonials also have to trek to St. Louis to play the Billikens, who made it to the quarterfinals of the NCAA tournament before falling to eventual champions Washington in 2021. The loss to the Huskies was their only loss on the season and the team had six players drafted in the MLS SuperDraft (four of which went in the first round).
Another game worth mentioning is the team’s away matchup with Duke on October 18. The Blue Devils are ranked fifth in the country in the United Soccer Coaches poll and have yet to lose a game.
GW can have a successful season but they need to lock it down defensively before it’s too late. It’s as simple as that. They’ve shown they have the offensive firepower to win games (and they’ll be in even better shape when Haynes Brown comes back). But they need to show that they have the defensive quality to not lose them. They return most of the roster and we’ve seen flashes of their talent but it’s critical that they get players healthy and improve defensively if they want to be a factor in the Atlantic 10 this year.