For Georgetown men’s soccer, elite play on the pitch has become the status quo. Over the past decade, MLS SuperDraft selections, conference championships, and individual accolades have become the norm at Georgetown, and head coach Brian Wiese sees no reason why that won’t continue in 2019.
“I think this team has a very high expectation of where they should be at the end of the year,” he said. “I think they expect to be competing for the Big East again. I think they expect to be in the NCAA Tournament again. I do think that this group is capable of winning a national championship if it all falls together right.”
2018 marked yet another historic season for a program that has enjoyed sustained success and national prominence over the course of Wiese’s 14-year tenure. The Hoyas went 13-5-3 in the regular season, notching signature away victories over ninth-ranked Duke and 14th-ranked Creighton along the way. In the Big East Tournament, Georgetown never conceded a goal, winning a second straight conference championship with a 2-0 victory over Marquette in the final.
There were high hopes heading into the NCAA Tournament when the Hoyas earned a 13-seed, but they were disappointed for a second straight year as they failed to reach the quarterfinals, losing a hard-fought Third Round match against Michigan State. After such an impressive year, one key loss in the postseason can come to define the entire season, but senior defender/midfielder Dylan Nealis sees it as fuel for future success.
“We’re just going to reflect on that experience, how we felt after those games and share it throughout the team and make sure to avoid it as much as possible,” Nealis said. “We’ll use those previous games as experience to overcome these future ones.”
Despite the NCAA Tournament letdown, the Hoyas boasted an array of postseason honors. Nealis was named the Big East Defensive Player of the Year, while a total of five Georgetown players made either the All-Big East First or Second Teams. Additionally, two Hoyas, goalkeeper Giannis Nikopolidis and midfielder Sean Zawadzki, were named to the All-Big East Freshman Team.
Going into 2019, Wiese will have to overcome a few key losses for his squad to succeed. Central midfielder Kyle Zajec graduated and signed a professional contract with the New York Red Bulls reserve squad after tallying four goals and seven assists in his senior season. Finding and developing solid defenders to fill the shoes of Peter Schropp and Brendan McDonough, critical components of Georgetown’s backline for the better part of their time on the Hilltop, will be one of Wiese’s toughest challenges heading into the season.
Fortunately, Wiese can rely on at least one player in the backline to provide consistent production and leadership each game. Nealis notched seven assists and two goals from the right back position last season and was selected in the preseason coaches’ poll to repeat as Big East Defensive Player of the Year. Wiese praised his versatility and ability to get forward and join the attack.
“What makes him special is his athleticism and experience and his ability to be a very good defender at the same time,” Wiese said. “It makes him a wonderfully dynamic player.”
Joining Nealis in defensive duties will be a trio of juniors, Sean O’Hearn, Rio Hope-Gund, and Foster McCune. Of the three, O’Hearn has the most experience, having started all but one game last season. Hope-Gund appeared in 16 matches, starting in four, and showed flashes of potential, including a stretch where he scored crucial goals from the backline in two of three matches. McCune appeared in 20 games off the bench last year, fulfilling a variety of midfield and defensive roles. Among the team’s new additions, graduate transfer Siggi Geirson, a 6-foot-2 defender from Reykjavík, Iceland, will be another intriguing option at Wiese’s disposal.
In the midfield, Wiese has an array of experienced players with sharply different playstyles to choose from, and he believes several could make an impact this season.
“Jacob Montes has been maybe the most dangerous player of our preseason,” Wiese said. “You have Jack Beer, who’s been terrific, Zach Riviere has been terrific, and Paul Rothrock, the transfer from Notre Dame, is a totally different dimension of things. Ethan Lochner in his fifth year has got his wily head to him. You’ve got all these different pieces and they all supplement each other really well.”
Lochner, a graduate student, is an experienced winger who tallied three goals and four assists last season. Beer and Riviere have both impressed during the offseason and can expect a sizable uptick in minutes this year, despite limited playing time last season. Among the midfield newcomers, Rothrack will likely have the largest role this season, after appearing in 13 games as a sophomore for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish before a season-ending injury.
Montes is the surest bet among those midfielders to play hefty minutes this season, after starting all 21 games in 2018 and lighting up the preseason, while Zawadzki will look to get even more involved in the middle of the pitch this season after starting 13 games as a freshman.
On the attacking front, Derek Dodson and Achara are the clear standouts, having both been named to the All-Big East First Team in 2018 and picked to repeat on the team this season.
“I think we’re going to be really dangerous,” Achara, a senior, said. “With me and Doddy [Dodson] fully healthy, we’re just going to do as much as we can to make it difficult for other teams.”
Dodson, a junior who led the team with nine goals in 2018 and was picked as the preseason Big East Offensive Player of the Year, has struggled with injuries and consistency in the past, but feels ready to produce in 2019.
“My confidence is feeling pretty good,” Dodson said. “We’re coming off of a great preseason, so I feel like the whole team is just buzzing right now.”
Wiese was quick to praise the two forwards’ development over the course of their time at Georgetown.
“These two guys have grown as leaders,” he said. “They’re both captains along with Nealis, and you see them taking much more ownership of the team, much more ownership of the players around them, ownership of the culture.”
First up for the Hoyas this season is a rivalry matchup against a dangerous Syracuse side on Aug. 30. But with a winning culture deeply ingrained on the Hilltop, Wiese knows that the last thing his team will do is back down from a challenge.
“I don’t think this group is going to be nervous about playing against anybody,” Wiese said. “I think they’ll walk on to every match feeling like they can and should win.”
Image Credits: Georgetown Sports Information