On Sunday, the Georgetown men’s soccer team (17-2, 8-2 Big East) will play the Providence Friars (12-4-4, 5-2-3 Big East) for the third time this season with a trip to the NCAA Elite Eight on the line. The squads split their first two matches this season, and the Friars have posed problems for the normally dominant Hoyas. Before the Sweet 16 matchup kicks off at Shaw Field, it is illuminating to roll back the tape and see just how Providence dominated the Hoyas in October, what Georgetown did differently in the Big East Championship game and what the path to victory will be on Sunday.
The Hoyas were completely outplayed from the opening kickoff. For the first and only time this season, Georgetown was held without a shot in the opening frame and only mustered seven shots all game, only two on goal. On the season, the Hoyas outshot their opponents by an average of 10 shots per game (17.2 – 7.1). Against the Friars, however, they were outshot 10-7. Shots don’t mean everything, but Georgetown’s offense is humming when they are taking a high volume of shots, forcing corners and getting the ball into the box.
The last time the Hoyas allowed three goals in a game was the National Championship game vs Virginia in 2019. For 668 days, Georgetown had allowed two goals or fewer to all opponents. Junior midfielder Luis Garcia changed that in a hurry. Garcia’s first goal came in the 26th minute off a free kick after a foul from junior forward Stefan Stojanovic. The ball took one or two deflections off the wall and in; all senior goalkeeper Giannis Nikopolidis could do was watch.
Garcia doubled up the score in the 61st minute. This one came off a pretty indefensible turnover in their own half by the Hoyas, which senior Paulo Lima was able to possess. He funnelled the ball to Garcia who blasted a shot well outside the box that flew past Nikopolidis. There was no defender near Garcia when he took the shot, a lazy decision that teams can usually get away with at that distance, but obviously not in this case. Another rough defensive look led to the third goal of the game from graduate forward Simon Triantafilou. Garcia sent a cross field pass to the foot of senior midfielder Christopher Roman. Roman laid off to an unmarked Triantafilou, who slotted it past Nikopolidis.
Simply put, the defensive effort wasn’t there for Georgetown in this game and the Friars took advantage. On the whole, this game was assuredly an outlier. Some of it can be chalked up to the trip up to Rhode Island, but most of it was the Hoyas being outplayed and outexecuted. The good news for Georgetown is that the third round will once again be at Shaw Field, where the Hoyas have gone undefeated this season.
Obviously a different result, but this game could have easily gone the other way. The first half was an incredibly back and forth affair. Both teams had some prime chances, but neither were able to break through. Outside of the scoring opportunities, this was a chippy game. The two teams combined for 26 fouls and seven yellow cards, without counting the two yellow cards that the Providence bench accrued in the first half.
The first goal of the game was a Stojanovic penalty kick in the 52nd minute that came after sophomore midfielder Kyle Linhares was pulled down in the box away from the ball while vying for a rebound. Stojanovic looked confident on his strike, beating the goalie even though he guessed right. The Hoyas look like they now have two dependable penalty scorers in Stojanovic and junior midfielder Dante Polvara. 12 minutes later, the Friars would have a penalty kick of their own after a miscommunication between Nikopolidis and his defender led Nikopolidis to foul a Providence player in the box. Lima strode up to take the shot but was stonewalled by Nikopolidis, earning a roar from the crowd.
The Friars would get their equalizer in the 85th minute. A long throw-in by senior forward Gil Santos was nodded to sophomore forward Brendan McSorley by Lima. McSorley had been left unmarked, a recurring theme in both of these games. He was able to put one past Nikopolidis to give Providence a well-earned tie. The game went into overtime, with Providence continuing to dominate possession. However, in golden goal overtime, all it takes is one moment of excellence. Polvara and Stojanovic teamed up for this one, as Polvara fired a pinpoint pass into the box that Stojanovic brilliantly touched down and put home.
Georgetown ended the game with a 16-6 advantage in shots, a marked improvement over the first game between the two teams. However, the final scoreline is deceiving – after Providence conceded the Stojanovic penalty kick, they dominated play. The Hoyas have now struggled to close out their last two games, including the end of the Georgia St. game. Coach Wiese will likely focus on closing teams out in the lead-up to the rubber match with the Friars.
More than any team the Hoyas have faced this season, the Friars punish a team’s mistakes. Seemingly every time the Hoyas gave Providence’s forwards any space they were ready to fire, often accurately. The Hoyas backline will need to stay disciplined in their half of the pitch, especially when the Friars are on the counterattack or coming off a turnover. A lot of responsibility will fall to the feet of freshman defender Kieran Sargeant. Standout junior Daniel Wu is unlikely to play on Sunday, meaning Sargeant will get another start. He has been excellent up to this point, but he, as well as sophomore defender Kenny Nielsen, will need to play smart, especially if junior wingbacks Aidan Rocha and Will Sands are pressing forward.
In the midfield, Sean Zawadzki, the Big East Defensive Player of the Year, will also play a big role in neutralizing the Providence attack. The team with Zawadzki and Polvara in the midfield will always have an advantage, as long as both are engaged from the early going. Offensively, someone other than Stojanovic and Polvara need to step up. The two have been the most consistent sources of offense all year, but Providence will be keyed in on them. Sophomore attackers Linhares and Chris Hegardt have been knocking on the door for their first goals of the season and Sunday would be a great day for it.
The least of the Hoyas worries will be the goaltending. Nikopolidis has made every save he’s needed to in recent weeks and is playing some of his best at just the right time. Yes, his only loss of the season came in the Providence game in October, but there was not much he could do when the ten players in front of him were so thoroughly outplayed. Nikopolidis has been in this position before – he started every game in last season’s Elite Eight run and he won the Sweet 16 and Final Four matches in the Hoyas’ march to the 2019 title. He will be ready.
The game on Sunday will be broadcast on ESPNU. Follow @GUVoiceSports on Twitter for more men’s soccer updates and coverage of all winter sports at Georgetown.