Mason men's soccer captures fourth-straight DC Cup title

Taylor Washington speeds past an American defender in Sunday night's DC Cup title win (Photo by John Irwin).
Taylor Washington speeds past an American defender in Sunday night's DC Cup title win (Photo by John Irwin).

The George Mason University men’s soccer team defended last year’s DC  Cup title by defeating Howard University and American University this weekend at George Mason Stadium. It was the fourth-straight title for the Patriots in the annual competition.

Mason started their title defense against Howard, who they faced in the second game of Friday’s double-header. Despite being the pre-game favorites, Mason had to work hard to break down the well-organized Bison defense. The Patriots were held scoreless until the 86th minute, when senior forward Wes Sever was fouled in the box and converted the penalty kick into the only goal in the game.

Mason had several scoring opportunities before halftime, but efforts by Sever and seniors Hugh Roberts and Julio Arjona were well saved by the Bison goalkeeper Eric Hamilton, who put in an impressive individual performance with 11 saves.

“We had good chances early in the game and that would’ve opened the opponent a bit,” Mason coach Greg Andrulis said after the game. “They were very content to sit in there and absorb and you have to give them a little credit because their tactics were successful for them.”

The second half started with Patriots in complete control, but Hamilton’s saves and the resiliency of Howard’s physical defense kept the Bison in contention. As the clock was winding down, however, a moment of individual brilliance by Sever, one of the team’s leaders, gave the Patriots the win.

“At halftime [coach Andrulis] told us to keep pushing, [that a goal] is going to come,” Sever said. “I don’t think Howard had too many chances on goal, I don’t think they had a shot, so it was pretty much all us. We just had to keep pushing forward and fortunately we were able to score.”

After the final whistle, Andrulis pointed to his team’s composure as a key factor for win.

“I think our veterans showed a lot of composure and we did not lose our heads with all the late and hard fouls,” he said. “At the end of the day, that is part of the game and cooler heads prevailed for us and we are happy with that.”

After Friday night’s victory, the Patriots faced their rivals from American in a match which, just like the year before, was to determine the champion. Mason again defeated the Eagles 2-1, despite falling behind early in the game.

American’s forwards pressured the Patriots’ defense, causing Mason to turn the ball over in their half. This pressure led to a foul in the penalty area and a penalty kick for the Eagles. Senior Cristobal Soto confidently sent the ball to the bottom left corner of the net, tricking goalkeeper Steffen Kraus the opposite way.

Following the goal, Mason equalized when Timi Mulgrew’s free kick shot from the edge of the penalty area was handled poorly by Eagles goalkeeper Billy Knutsen. Senior Hugh Roberts was quick enough to get to it and score off the rebound.

“I don’t think we were prepared for them to be as direct as they played,” Andrulis said. “It’s not the way they normally play and having played them so many years in a row you expect a certain style out of your opponent. Having said that, we made some adjustments and to the guys’ credit, the adjustments worked.”

Following Roberts’ goal, the Patriots took control of the game and had two good opportunities to take the lead through Arjona and Brennan Zizi. An acrobatic effort on goal by Zizi in the 33rd minute was saved by Knutsen, while Arjona failed to beat the goalkeeper with a shot from close range just minutes before halftime. On the other side of the field, Mason’s defense led by Roberts limited the Eagles to occasional half chances, which did not trouble freshman goalkeeper Kraus.

“Hugh was one of the better guys in the area,” said coach Andrulis of one of the team leaders. “He’s a tremendous talent and we certainly expect an awful lot out of him.”

He also commented on the overall defensive performance: “I think at times they overcomplicated it and we could play a little simpler and not give the coach so many gray hairs, but all that stuff is going to come as they get a little more comfortable with each other. This backline is very solid and that will help us a lot.”

The winning goal came in the 50th minute, when a combination of passes between Jannick Eckenrode and senior Alex Herrera, who returned from a long-term sports hernia injury, ended with a sharp, low cross in the middle by Herrera which found Sever, who tapped it in the goal. Herrera had a goal-scoring opportunity in the 62nd minute, but after his strong shot from inside the box, the ball hit the crossbar landing on the goal-line and was cleared out for a corner kick.

After the game, Coach Andrulis praised Herrera’s return performance. “It was great to get Alex back on the field. He’s a senior who has been battling sports hernia and he didn’t play since last November – it is good to have him back as he makes us a better team.”

Following the goal the Eagles attempted to get back in the game and had a few chances by sophomore Charlie Hunter on free kicks, but most of his efforts were wide of Kraus’ goal. The Patriots’ goalkeeper had to make only one save throughout the course of the 90 minutes.

The final buzzer brought euphoria both on the bleachers and the field. Coach Andrulis gave his traditional post-game speech which was soon followed by a loud “Ole, ole, ole” chant as the Patriots lifted the DC College Cup trophy for the fourth-straight year.

“I told them that I was proud of the fact that we were able to change on the play and make some adjustments and their response to the penalty kick [when] we scored right away was a very mature thing and it’s going to be a long season and we are going to need sometimes to be gutsy and sometimes to be pretty,” said Andrulis.

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