Men’s Soccer shows promise, but falls in final preseason matchup

The Patriots dropped their final pre-season contest at UVA Friday night, but players like junior midfielder Derek Markheim (pictured above) are expected to step up this season. (John Powell).

The George Mason Men’s Soccer team dropped their final exhibition game Friday night in a 0-1 loss at the No. 22 University of Virginia.

The redshirt sophomore Laurent Newsome, who did not have a shot last season, took the first look at the Cavalier’s net with a shot on goal. Senior midfielder Ryan Gracia followed the shot up with one of his own but sent the ball high and left over the net.

The Patriots seized the momentum, and freshman Ryan Mulgrew, the only Patriot starter listed at the forward position, took the ball to the right side with room, but was cut off just 15 feet from the goal.

The Cavaliers put a stop to the run when they broke away in transition, as Virginia’s Ari Dimas put the ball in the Patriots’ net off a cross from Will Bates.

“They caught us on a counter on a mistake, and we had a couple of chances at the end,” head coach Greg Andrulis said. “We made a mistake […] and they took advantage of it.”

This shot was goalkeeper Dustin Butcher’s lone goal allowed during the exhibition portion of the schedule, after putting together a clean sheet against West Virginia on Aug. 16.

Later in the first half, Gracia again found himself near a congested box as freshman midfielder Verneri Valimaa sent the ball. The ball was a bit too close to the goal when it was received; Gracia could do nothing but kick it into the goalkeeper.

“I believe [Gracia] is saving his goals for real important games,” Andrulis said. “Ryan is going to score for us.”

Gracia accounted for three of the five Patriots’ shots in the first half. After earning Premier Development League honors during the summer, all eyes are on him to be a playmaker.

“It gives me a lot of confidence,” Gracia said. “I had a rough season last year at Mason, but I was able to regain it all this summer.”

Showing the first bit of miscommunication in the game, Draymond Washington was caught out of position on a corner kick from his side of the field in the second half, nearly costing a goal. Washington used it as motivation though, as he played harder to hold the Cavaliers scoreless for the rest of the game.

“Guys are still trying to sort it all out,” Andrulis said. “Some of the connections aren’t there yet, but they’re things we can work on as a team and we will.”
Butcher stayed in the game for the beginning of the second half, but after tallying a third save, he was replaced by sophomore goalkeeper Mark Bixler, who finished the game without a goal allowed or a save.

Junior midfielder A.J. Sheta found a shot in the second half as the Patriots went into a press to score, but UVA’s Spencer LaCivita blocked it for Mason’s lone scoring opportunity in the second half.

The Patriots look to rebound from a disappointing 2010 campaign in which they went 8-7-2 overall with a 4-5-2 CAA mark, putting them outside of the playoffs.

Without Ernesto Marquez, who accounted for nearly a third of the team’s scoring, junior Derek Markheim, along with Gracia, will need to step up.

“Derek is our little Mighty Mouse in the middle, a non-stop ‘Energizer’ bunny,” Gracia said, “so he keeps it going for us up front. In the back, Paul Andrews, a new transfer [from Northern Kentucky], is going to do well for us.”

After the loss, the upperclassmen came to a better realization of their roles on the team.

“Now that we’re older, we have taken more responsibility […] for ourselves and the team,” Markheim said. “Not only playing hard, but trying to win […] We’ve got big aspirations for the CAA.”

Even though sophomore Sean Cote spent the most time in goal the last season, compiling 61 saves and 14 goals allowed in 15 games, Butcher has received the nod for the starts so far this season.

Last year’s injury bug forced Andrulis’s hand for the start in goal, but this season, he should be able to choose his own goalkeeper. With Sean Kelley’s departure after the 2009 season, Andrulis is looking for one of the three to step up.

“The exhibition games are a lot like your second kiss,” Andrulis said. “They’re not remembered often and soon forgettable. We’ve got to move on and get ready for Boston College.”

The Patriots open their regular season at Boston College on Aug. 26 before returning home to host the D.C. College Cup with American, Howard and George Washington on Sept. 1 and 3.

“I knew we were going to be a decent team coming into the season,” Gracia said, “but we’re looking better than I thought […] We can only improve from here.”

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