Title talk: Comparing the 2019 and 2021 men’s soccer team

November 19, 2021

Graphic by Sean Ye

The 2019 Georgetown men’s soccer team was one for the record books, winning the first NCAA title in team history. The 2021 team shows a lot of similarities to the 2019 squad: sterling goalkeeping, an impervious defense, and a high-powered offense. The Hoyas have momentum heading into NCAA competition after winning the Big East regular season and tournament titles, and starting on Nov. 21, they will once again pursue a spot in the College Cup. As the Hoyas hope for another record-breaking season finish, let’s see how the current players stack up compared to the 2019 squad.  

Forward: Derek Dodson (2019) vs. Stefan Stojanovic (2021)

Stojanovic has been nothing short of a revelation this season, providing an immediate impact as a transfer by leading the team in goals, including two scores in the Big East Final. However, he has not yet reached the level of Dodson, one of the greatest scorers in Hoya history as well as an excellent table-setter, an area where Stojanovic still has room to improve.

Advantage: 2019

Forward: Zach Riviere (2019) vs. Riviere (2021)

Provided that Riviere is not limited by concussion-like symptoms in the tournament, an older, more experienced Riviere takes this one. In 2019, Riviere got the start in the NCAA Tournament as Head Coach Brian Wiese tried to ease Achara back into the lineup coming off of an injury, but now Riviere is the old head at the top of the formation.

Advantage: 2021

Midfielder: J.B. Fischer (2019) vs. Chris Hegardt (2021)

Two contrasting styles match up here. Hegardt has incredible amounts of technical and creative skill, with more points this season (four) than Fischer had in his career (three). On the other hand, Fischer was as steady as they come, providing a calm veteran presence that anchored the Hoyas in the midfield. There is some risk with Hegardt that his fiery play can take him out of a game if he gets frustrated, but he can still create offense out of thin air when the Hoyas need it. 

Advantage: 2021

Midfielder: Sean Zawadzki (2019) vs. Zawadzki (2021)

Zawadzki was one of the Hoyas’ best players down the stretch in 2019, scoring a huge goal in the semifinal match versus Stanford and largely dominating play. But the 2021 version of Zawadzki makes this call easy. He is one of the best players in the nation, completely on top of his game in all facets, and a decisive force in the defensive midfield. He will look to leave his mark on another national tournament this year.

Advantage: 2021

Midfielder: Jacob Montes (2019) vs. Dante Polvara (2021)

From an easy call to an incredibly hard one. According to TopDrawerSoccer, Polvara is the best player in college soccer, a beast on offense and defense who has moments of absolute greatness, such as his pass to Stojanovic that won the Big East Championship game. The same could arguably have been said in 2019 of Montes, who went on to sign with Crystal Palace and became the first Hoya to sign with a Premier League side. It’s an incredibly close comparison, but the slight edge goes to Polvara for his defensive prowess in the midfield. 

Advantage: 2021

Midfielder: Paul Rothrock (2019) vs. Kyle Linhares (2021)

Linhares is a valuable offensive weapon for the Hoyas, making space down the right side and causing problems for defenses. However, Rothrock may have been one of the most underrated pieces of the 2019 team’s success, scoring four goals and registering seven assists on the year. Meanwhile, Linhares has yet to score a collegiate goal and still has some ways to go in his development. 

Advantage: 2019

Defense: Sean O’Hearn (2019) vs. Aidan Rocha (2021)

Rocha was a bench player on that 2019 squad, notably scoring a penalty kick in the National Championship game. Since then, he has really blossomed into an excellent wingback that shoulders defensive responsibility while also knowing when to get forward offensively. O’Hearn’s Hoya career was as steady as they come, and he provided a calm presence on the back for the championship team, but never had the dynamism that Rocha displays. 

Advantage: 2021

Defense: Rio Hope-Gund (2019) vs. Kenny Nielsen (2021)

Hope-Gund may have been the most essential player during the Hoyas’ 2019 run, providing both top-class defending as well as a competitive fire in the back. Nielsen, on the other hand, is a much quieter player, though he has performed well this season after returning from injury. At the end of the day, however, Hope-Gund was in a class of his own in terms of defensive ability and leadership.

Advantage: 2019

Defense: Daniel Wu (2019) vs. Kieran Sargeant (2021)

Before Wu hurt his leg in the Big East semifinal, he would have been the final repeat starter.  Unfortunately, there is no news on Wu’s availability as of now, so Sargeant gets the draw here. Wu was amazing as a freshman, combining with Hope-Gund to create a calm, cool, and collected backline. Sargeant may get there someday, but, as of now, is still raw and less defensively sound than the 2019 freshman star.

Advantage: 2019

Defense: Dylan Nealis (2019) vs. Will Sands (2021)

Sands is an incredible player, who dominated offensively and defensively on his way to an All-Big East First Team honor this season. As Sands goes, so do the Hoyas. However, Nealis was an All-American his senior season, named a MAC Hermann finalist and drafted top five in the MLS Superdraft, as well as captaining the Hoyas to glory. Sands is great; Nealis was transcendent.

Advantage: 2019

Goalkeeper: Tomas Romero (2019) vs. Giannis Nikopolidis (2021)

There is no denying Romero’s talent and poise as a freshman in 2019 was incredible. It was Romero who was out there for the Big East Final against Butler and in the National Championship game. However, Nikopolidis gets the slight edge based on experience. Nikopolidis matched Romero every step of the way in 2019 and, in his fourth season, the veteran has the skill and savvy to lead this team back to the promised land. 

Advantage: 2021 

Bench: Beer, Polvara, Sands, Achara, Nikopolidis (2019) vs. Tabora, Da Luz, Franks, Wu, Koehler (2021)

The bench decision is tighter than it seems, as neither Polvara nor Sands were fully-formed as freshmen and both would take time to find their way. However, Achara was deadly, even if he was physically limited, and Beer was a legitimate impact player. Tabora, Da Luz, and Franks have all been big parts of the forward rotation, but their consistency can be lacking.

Advantage: 2019

Coaching Staff: Brian Wiese, et .al. (2019) vs. Brian Wiese, et .al. (2021)

As a coach, you need to be able to push all the right buttons to win a championship, and Wiese was able to do just that in 2019, whether that meant alternating Romero and Nikopolidis or giving big minutes to freshmen. Unsurprisingly, Wiese and his staff have not lost this skill and have one major advantage over the 2019 crew: they’ve done this before, they know their players, and they won’t crack under pressure. 

Advantage: 2021

Final Analysis: The 2021 players won seven categories to 2019’s six. Second championship incoming? Well, the Hoyas are certainly in the conversation, but potential injuries to Wu and Riviere may reduce their chances, a challenge compounded by a tough draw that leaves Marshall or Providence looming as a formidable Third Round matchup. That being said, with Zawadzki and Polvara dominating the midfield and a coaching staff that’s been there before, the Hoyas are coming into the tournament feeling like they can beat anyone. 

Roman Peregrino
Once upon a time, Roman was the Voice's EIC as well as news, managing, and sports editor. He is from San Francisco and a lot less Italian than his name suggests.

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