Mount Vernon Coach Tony Garza calls the regular season a “tuneup,” a viewpoint that was solidified last season. The Majors started the season 3-7-2, but turned around with a remarkable 10-1 record in the last six weeks to capture the AAA Virginia state title.
Recreating that run isn’t likely, Garza admits as he enters his second year at the helm. The team has just a handful of starters back, and is not as technically gifted as last year’s team. But Garza has time on his side: Mount Vernon’s young team has been meshing through training sessions over the past month, having played just one game in the past two weeks because of inclement weather. And even though Mount Vernon (1-0) — which defeated Lee, 1-0, in the opener on March 21 — is feeling the full weight of expectations after last year’s title, it still is focused on peaking at the right time.
“I could never take anything away from last year’s team, and never compare anything to them,” Garza said. “I hope the athletic ability of these boys can pick up the pace from where they left off, and fill in the gaps.”
Mount Vernon, which plays five of its first seven matches on the road, is relying heavily on midfielder Daniel Obour. The swift, talented junior was the only underclassman starter on last season’s team and scored the game-winning goal in the opener against Lee two weeks ago.
The Majors also return a goalkeeper in senior Diego Castro, who should provide the backline with stability. Castro started most of Mount Vernon’s matches a year ago, and spent the offseason on a regimented schedule of ball-handling drills and leg-work. The team will come together through regular season tests, Castro said, and ultimately through time.
“Yes, everyone would like to see a repeat, because there’s always that expectation of a championship winning team to do it again,” Castro said. “Because we are such a new team, it’s going to take some time. It’s going to take time to get to where we were last year.”
George Mason Coach Frank Spinello took his off night to scout Manassas Park earlier this week, setting preparations for an April 8 showdown against the Cougars. It will be a welcome challenge, one of the toughest tests of the season for the defending Virginia A State titlists, who have been blasting opponents to open the season.
George Mason (3-0), which finished with 21 wins a year ago en route to its sixth title, has defeated Warren County, Madison County and William Monroe by a combined score of 20-0 to open the season. Couple those numbers with the preseason slate, in which it beat an out-of-area squad, 15-0, and even took down Marshall, 3-0, in a scrimmage, and the Mustangs have the early-season look of being a contender yet again. The Mustangs return 17 players and seven full-time starters, and at least 11 returning players on the team started matches a year ago.
“There isn’t that much of a dropoff when we switch from our starters to the bench, so we have basically have 24 players that can play almost anywhere on the field,” junior midfielder Ned Quill said.
Spinello calls Quill “one of the most composed players I’ve ever coached,” and he’s got another solid midfielder in Paul Darmstadter (22 goals, 12 assists in 2013) who’s moved into a more attacking mode this season. George Mason returns plenty of scoring from last spring, when it outscored opponents 123-14, including hard-charging forward Raheem Lawal. The junior scored 25 goals and added 10 assists last year.
Lawal has already scored two goals three times this season, and sophomore Elliott Mercado has added five goals so far. It was a bye week for the George Mason, which gave the well-conditioned team a chance to rest and gave Spinello a chance to prepare for an important league game next week against Manassas Park (1-0-1).
“By winning the state title, it put a big target on our back,” Quill said. “We started the season very strong, so we’ve proved to other teams in the district and other teams that we’re going to play that we’re someone who is going to give you a tough game and that if you want a chance at beating us, then you’re going to have to play your best.”
West Springfield has now beat three top 10 teams to open the season after upending Lake Braddock, 2-1, on Tuesday night. . . . Tuscarora has opened the season outscoring opponents 15-2 in its first three games. . . . Battlefield picked up an important Conference 8 win with a 1-0 victory over Osbourn Park. . . .Virginia Tech commit Collin Verfuth scored a goal and added an assist and Junior Vasquez added another goal as Briar Woods defeated Loudoun County, 3-0.
1.Oakton (4-0) LW: 1
2.Mount Vernon (1-0) LW: 3
3.Tuscarora (Va.) (3-0) LW: 5
4.West Springfield (3-0) LW: 7
5.Chantilly (2-1) LW: 4
6.Forest Park (1-0) LW: 6
7.Briar Woods (2-0) LW: 8
8.Yorktown (3-1) LW: 9
9.Battlefield (3-0-1) LW: 10
10.T.C. Williams (3-0) LW: NR
Records through Tuesday.