The No. 19 Georgetown men’s soccer team (12-4-3, 6-2-1 Big East) defeated the Marquette Golden Eagles (7-9-3, 5-3-1 Big East), 2-0, on Sunday afternoon at Shaw Field in the Big East Tournament championship game. Senior defender Brendan McDonough scored the game-winning goal, while junior forward Achara added the team’s second.
McDonough and his fellow seniors arrived on the Hilltop in 2015 and entered a Georgetown program that had never won a Big East Tournament. But the Hoyas have now won three of the last four, asserting their quality in a competitive conference and capping a rapid rise to the top of collegiate soccer.
“It’s unbelievable… to get three out of four, I never would have guessed it,” McDonough said. “It speaks to the culture we have here with [head] coach [Brian] Wiese that he’s set. The example that was taught to us with the 2015 winning team. Those guys really installed a winning culture here. It’s so much harder than it looks. It’s incredible that we could pull this off and we feel really good right now.”
The teams exchanged blows to open the game with each showing creativity in the midfield and physical play in the defensive half. Marquette appeared the more dangerous of the two teams, though, with junior midfielder Luka Prpa and freshman forward Lukas Senesson spearheading the attack. But McDonough broke the deadlock early when the Hoyas won a corner kick in the 11th minute. Georgetown senior midfielder Kyle Zajec delivered an in-swinging service that found McDonough’s head from eight yards out, and the captain headed it downward and past the outstretched arms of Marquette senior goalkeeper Luis Barraza to open the Blue & Gray’s account.
“I was telling McDonough that he was a walking goal kick,” said Brian Wiese. “But in fairness to him, he’s been a really good target for us and great for him as a senior captain to score a game-winning goal in the Big East final. It’s fantastic. [The goal] settled us a bit.”
With the goal in hand, the Hoyas increased their defensive intensity, pressing Marquette throughout the pitch. Marquette advanced numbers forward in an effort to chase an equalizing goal, leaving space in behind for the Georgetown counterattack. Achara and sophomore forward Derek Dodson looked for runs centrally, while senior midfielder Ethan Lochner and junior defender Dylan Nealis made runs into space on the wings, delivering incisive through balls or threatening crosses.
The Golden Eagles absorbed the greater Georgetown pressure and relied on Prpa to control the pace of play. The junior provided key passes and a composed head throughout the game, ensuring his team was ready to take advantage of any potential Georgetown mistake.
“They’re a good soccer playing team,” Wiese said. “They have the goalkeeper of the year. Prpa is arguably the best midfielder in the conference… I thought their left side was really good. They caused us real problems… I think they were peaking [during the Big East Tournament].”
Georgetown entered the half with a 1-0 advantage having outshot Marquette six to three. But Marquette generated six corners to the Hoyas’ five, demonstrating the overall balance of play and attacking nature of the game.
The second half was nothing if not physical, with Achara earning a yellow card just 23 seconds in for a hard challenge. Marquette pushed hard for an equalizing goal, but each shot attempt either missed wide or made for a comfortable save. Georgetown freshman goalkeeper Giannis Nikopolidis was forced into three saves in the half.
Achara, who had a one-on-one opportunity against Barraza saved in the first half, put the game to bed in the 70th minute. The ball was played to junior forward Riley Strassner at the top of the box, but he was unable to field a clean first touch due to high pressure from the Marquette back line. Once he gained possession, however, Strassner played Achara towards goal, and Achara beat Barraza to the ball and finished the opportunity well.
From there, the Blue & Gray looked poised to keep their clean sheet, as Marquette failed to generate any substantial attack for the remainder of the game.
Marquette outshot Georgetown, 10 to nine, and was awarded more corner kicks, eight to six. But the Hoyas capitalized on their best chances of the day, which ultimately proved to be the decisive factor.
“I would say today wasn’t our best performance, but we’re in good form,” Wiese said. “We feel pretty good about where we are and we’ve got pieces that are coming on and giving us a lot of minutes that are really important.”
Sunday’s championship win was Wiese’s 150th as head coach at Georgetown. McDonough was named the Big East Championship Most Outstanding Defensive Player and Lochner earned Big East Championship Most Outstanding Offensive Player honors. Both were named to the Big East All-Tournament Team, as were Zajec and Achara.
Georgetown will learn its NCAA Tournament path on Monday at 1:00pm during the NCAA Selection Show. Follow @GUVoiceSports on Twitter for updates on the men’s and women’s soccer teams’ NCAA Tournament journeys.