Author: Liam Omerchu
Despite being ravaged by injuries at the start of the year, GW men’s football got off to a good start. The team is 2-2-2, but with 12 players out due to injuries, they haven’t been able to find any early-season rhythm.
After establishing a defensive-first identity over the past few years, the Colony’s offense has exploded so far, scoring 12 goals and accounting for 66 percent of last season’s overall output. On the other hand, the team has been terrible defensively, especially from set pieces. Buff & Blue have conceded 12 goals so far, 5 of which have come from set-pieces (you can add a 6th if you include a penalty against Delaware).
Senior goalkeeper Justin Grady, who was named to the Atlantic Top 10 preseason plenary lineup, won’t be able to return to the spring of 2021, when he averaged 0.65 goals. In fact, it was the first start for a GW goalie other than Grady (red shirt teenager Duncan Wegner) in last week’s 3-3 draw with the Navy in 31 games.
Three guards sit in front of Grady, a departure from the four-back formation the team has had in recent years. The mainstay of the defense is junior Lukas Matushevski, who transfers from Pittsburgh for the spring 2022 semester. Matushevski’s verbal leadership (and excellent 1v1 defense) bolstered the Colonials’ defense in a way that didn’t appear on the scoresheet. However, his time at Buff & Blue was marred by a lack of concentration, most notably the team’s game against Colombia. After fouling the goalkeeper, he was sent off for “fighting” with the opposing player (I’ve already expressed my views on this decision, if you haven’t seen my match recap, check out my match recap ).
To his right was senior captain Ryan Sedno, who avoided injury and started every game. On the other hand, we’ve seen teenager Aaron Kronenberg continue his development despite suffering a horrific head injury in the spring. The German has worn a protective helmet in every game so far this season. However, the head gear hasn’t stopped him from scoring twice this season, both from headers.
Notably absent from the backline is sophomore Sean Wagdy, who looked set to play a bigger role this season before suffering a lower-body injury. Vaghedi has started two preseason games but has yet to play in the regular season.
Standing on the backline is junior Carter Hamm, arguably the Colonial’s best player this year. Humm bounced back in position during his first two years at GW, but has settled into a defensive midfield role this year. His ability to cover the ground and win 50-50 seconds was crucial, and he showed his versatility to slide into different positions when needed.
Teenager Tim Neumann and graduate student Alhaji Toure were the other two regular starters in the midfield (although Toure missed the final game). They also played an important role in helping the team transition to the new formation. They play thankless roles, running around without the approval of some attackers.
Next time you watch a game, keep an eye out for the midfielders. They’ve been unknown, but have been at the heart of the team’s success this season.
Missing from midfield is redshirt veteran Grant Barrientos, who has been dealing with an injury. Barrientos has been a valued member of the team throughout his career, appearing in 36 games over three seasons. He started the team’s first preseason game but hasn’t played since.
Another important consideration when looking at a team’s midfield is Max Delyfer. The England native was part of the Colonial freshman class but signed with EFL champions Watford FC instead of coming to GW. Delyfer is a defensive midfielder who spent time at Arsenal’s academy and last season with non-league club Potters Bar Town FC. He is spending time with Watford’s U-21s and was on the bench for the senior team’s EFL Cup loss to MK Dons on August 23. Delyfer’s absence was another hurdle the Colonials overcame earlier this season.
On the outside, seniors Tom Cooklin and Roy Tanner got most of the starts, though Cooklin missed two games with injury. Cooklin has been the focal point of the Colonial’s offense, scoring two goals and two assists in four games (both of his goals were roaring, and he almost scored one more against Delaware). ball). Tanner was one of six players to start every game in non-conference games and showed his two-way ability with two assists.
Senior Elias Norris has overcome an early-season injury and has had a major impact on GW’s offense, playing primarily on the left wing. Norris used his superb speed to overtake defenders and convert it into two goals.
Most importantly, GW is led by a familiar face from graduate student Oscar Haynes Brown. The native from London, England is in his sixth year (!) with the Colony and is sixth in GW men’s football all-time top scorer with 33 goals. Unfortunately for Haynes Brown, his time in Washington was filled with injuries, and this season has been no exception. Haynes Brown has played in 54 of 85 possible games since arriving in 2017. This year, he has scored two goals and an assist in his first four games, but has missed the last two.
Other contributors to the attack include senior Tiago Carvalho, freshman Alex Nicholson and sophomore Nico Krueger. Carvalho, another player who has started every game so far for GW, scored his first career goal in the team’s 2-1 win over Colombia. The Portuguese’s technique (and left-footed ability) has always been an asset for Buff & Blue in set pieces and attack.
A native of Newcastle, England, Nicholson has adapted well to college football (and the scorching heat of Washington, D.C.). He scored his first goal in the team’s 2-1 loss at Mount St. Mary’s and has started both of the last two games. His speed, ability to get behind, and willingness to press were a big part of the Colonial’s offensive success early in the season.
Kruger impressed in limited minutes early in the season, contributing two assists. However, he was also plagued by injuries and missed the team’s last two games.
Judging by the conference schedule, the team managed to avoid perennial A-10 contenders Dayton and VCU this season. However, they do have to go to Loyola Chicago, a team that was just one penalty away from last season’s NCAA Tournament and started the year undefeated.
Speaking of tournament teams, the Colonists also have to trek to St. Louis to play the Billikens, who reach the quarterfinals of the NCAA Tournament before losing to eventual champion Washington in 2021. Losing to the Huskies was their only loss. This season, the team had 6 players drafted in MLS SuperDraft (4 of which were drafted in the first round).
Another game worth mentioning is the team’s road game against Duke on October 18. The Blue Devils are fifth in the nation in the United Football Coaches poll and have yet to lose a game.
GW can have a successful season, but they need to lock it down on the defensive end before it’s too late. It’s that simple. They’ve proven they have the offensive firepower to win games (and they’ll be even better when Haynes Brown returns). But they need to prove they can defend and not lose them. They’re back for most of the lineup, and we’ve seen flashes of their talent, but if they’re going to be a factor in this year’s Atlantic 10, it’s critical to keep players healthy and improve their defense.