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The GW Hatchet

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Men’s soccer settles for draw in season opener against William & Mary

Hatchet File Photo
Early exits from GW junior defenders Lucas Matuszewski and Aaron Kronenberg paved the way for the two Tribe goals.

Men’s soccer kicked off their season with a 2–2 draw against William & Mary Thursday, failing to maintain a pair of leading scores in the game.

The two goals from the Colonials (0-0-1) each came from their English stars – graduate student forward Oscar Haynes Brown and senior midfielder Tom Cooklin. But senior forward Diba Nwegbo led the Tribe (0-0-1) to claw back with two of his own goals that held GW in check until time expired.

Early exits from GW junior defenders Lucas Matuszewski and Aaron Kronenberg paved the way for the two Tribe goals while Head Coach Craig Jones rushed to find replacements and stave off offensive attacks.

“When you score two goals and lead twice, you hope to win it,” Jones said in a post-game interview. “But I don’t really think it helped that we had a lot of guys going down injured. We had to move a ton of guys around, which really disrupted us.”

GW started the game with a chance to score just one minute into the match after Cooklin and Haynes Brown connected, but Haynes Brown could not find the net. The Colonials’ promising attacking play continued for another few minutes before the Tribe settled into the match.

In the seventh minute, Tribe senior midfielder Nathan Messer crossed the ball into senior forward Alexander Levengood, who fired it right at GW senior goalkeeper Justin Grady. Junior forward Joe Core pounced on the rebound and rocketed the ball over the goal from point blank.

After a few decent looks for the Tribe throughout the first half, the Colonials struck first in the 41st minute. Junior midfielder Tim Neumann intercepted a pass and quickly played it to Haynes Brown, who took a left-footed shot toward the far post on the ground. Tribe graduate student goalkeeper Danilo Nikcevic could not reach the shot in time as GW scored before heading into the locker room with a 1–0 lead.

The Tribe opened the second half on the front foot with Levengood, a member of the All-CAA Preseason Team, getting in behind the GW defense early. Although the Colonials relieved some pressure, the Tribe equalized in the 63rd minute. A corner kick from Levengood bounced around the GW penalty box and landed at the feet of Nwegbo, who hit it off the half volley past Grady.

The goal energized the Tribe, spurred on by Matuszewski’s departure in the 67th minute. Jones said the early exit was a precautionary measure because the Pittsburgh transfer felt lightheaded, and he should be available for the team’s next match on Sunday against Manhattan.

But the Colonials scored next thanks to a crafty piece of play by Cooklin in the 71st minute. Cooklin drove into the center past multiple defenders from the right wing and took a left-footed shot, which fell to senior midfielder Elias Norris. Norris dribbled into the path of sophomore forward Nico Krueger, who played it back to a waiting Cooklin. The Lewes, England native took the ball in stride and nestled his shot into the upper far corner beyond Nikcevic.

Cooklin’s heroics did not end there, as he slotted into a role as an outside center back after junior defender Kronenberg came off the field with an injury of his own. Although Cooklin says he’d never played defense before, he managed an impressive sliding block in the box to spurn junior midfielder Augie Cooper in the 82nd minute.

“I’m an attacking winger, so playing more of a defensive role in the middle was completely new,” Cooklin said. “But I enjoyed it. I got a nice block, so I’ll put that on the highlight reel.”

Two minutes later, Tribe freshman forward Lucas Caldas beat three GW defenders on the end line and played it across to Nwegbo, who snuck behind his markers for a tap-in. The Colonials had trouble tracking their runners in the box all day, and those issues manifested in an 84th-minute goal.

Following the goal, heavy rain quickly started falling, causing the chaotic game to intensify further with a faster pace and less control on the ball.

“It was crazy, right?” Jones said. “Anything could have happened in the last 10 minutes. Especially when the rain came, I was hoping that we would get a shot off because it could skid off the turf.”

An offside call disallowed a go-ahead goal from Levengood one minute after the Tribe knotted the equalizer. Nwegbo, who also placed on the All-CAA Preseason Team this month, directed a free header toward goal and Levengood put it home while in an offside position.

Despite the disorganization on defense at times, the Colonials were clicking offensively in a way they failed to for much of last season, thanks in large part to Cooklin and Haynes Brown. The Englishmen both spent much of last year injured while the Colonials struggled for offensive ideas without them on the field.

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