Soccer. School. Thanks as always to @danhelfrich21!
The Georgetown Men’s soccer team finds its way into the Sweet 16 yet again- their seventh appearance in the last ten years. The Hoyas will host familiar foe Providence on Sunday at Shaw Field- the third matchup between the two Big East powers this year. The match will be streamed on ESPN. Hoya soccer alums Tom Greaser and Dan Helfrich will be in the broadcast booth as they have for every match for the past 17 years (not quite Chvotkin-level longevity, but on the way). Tom and Dan joined us for a casual look at the team and a preview of the weekend matchup.
Before talking about the sweet 16 matchup with Friars, lets reflect a bit on this year’s team. You two have been broadcasting Hoyas in every one of Coach Wiese’s 16 seasons. Where does this team stack up?
TG: Top 3 with the potential to be talked about as the best in program history.
DH: Whoa. Maybe some recency bias there…but agree that if they complete the college soccer “treble” (Conference reg season, Conference tourney, NCAA tourney), they would be inviting themselves into a lifetime of bar/holiday debates with the 2012 and 2019 teams. The 2019 national championship team was probably most recognizable for the extreme depth with 22 players seeing action in the Final Four…this team most known for a central midfield pairing that actually lived up to the preseason hype. Polvara and Zawadzki recently ranked as the top 2 players in the country…one wins Midfielder of the Year, the other Defensive Player of the year. Give me an analogy from somewhere else in sports to put the two of them on the same team in context.
TG: Probably need to go way back in time – I’ll say Ruth and Gehrig. More recently, maybe Shaq and Kobe.
Hoyas are undefeated at home for the second time in last three years. Pretty ridiculous. Why has Shaw become a fortress?
TG: It is a great surface. The Shaws have given so much to the soccer programs (men and women) and that includes a major investment in the quality of the field. The student section has also been brilliant, although not as good as the pots and spoons (if you missed the mid-1990s you missed a lot). When the students surround Shaw it creates one of the best atmospheres in college soccer. And of course the press box is world class.
DH: Huge credit to Hoya legend Luis Mendes for his 30 year career caretaking the pitch. As for that press box, not exactly the trappings we often find on the road (or frankly down the hill at Cooper), but I will say that having a non-functioning AC/heating unit is a nice cosmetic touch. We will accept hot chocolate donations at halftime of remaining NCAA tourney games.
TG: Don’t forget to add the secret sauce to the hot chocolate. It makes the broadcast much more entertaining!
Let’s play everyone’s favorite “Player/coach” association game. I give you a current Georgetown team member. You respond with a Georgetown basketball player, a Georgetown soccer alum, and/or a famous international soccer player that he reminds you of.
Dante Polvara: TG: Zo. Powerful and dominant on both sides of the field (court). And both are on the short list of best players in program history.
DH: Love the Mourning comparison- perfect. Soccer comparison yaYa Toure for Man City in his prime.
Sean Zawadzki: TG: David Wingate – both mean so much to their teams. For all of his quality, which there is a lot of, Zawa does so much more that goes unnoticed. Some would argue that Wingate was the most complete defender in hoops history and the same will be said about Sean and his play as a “6” (holding midfielder) for 4 years. Well, actually for 3 1/2 years, as Coach Wiese thought it might be fun to move the best defensive midfielder in the country to a center back at the end of last season.
DH: Yeah I think Coach spent a few too many “A Beautiful Mind” like whiteboarding sessions dreaming up that move last spring. But I digress. I would say prime Michael Bradley- circa World Cup 2010- the right analogy here.
TG: I always cringed when I saw Bradley on the team sheet in an important fixture, so I would go with Patrick Vieira.
Giannis Nikopolidis: TG: He reminds me of a legendary European goalkeeper who helped Greece win Euro 2004.
DH: That should send people scrambling…wait, Greece actually won the Euros? Indeed- and the amazing run was led by Giannis’ father playing the same position. Which ring is bigger I wonder- the Hoya 2019 NCAA ring or the Greece Euros one? As for a Hoya comparison, I am going to go with Monica McNutt. Smooth, likeable, never flustered…and perhaps he ends up on TV like Monica. As a goalkeeper, most like Hoya legendary shot stopper Phil Wellington.
Stefan Stoyanovich: TG: The first thing that comes to mind is thinking about great transfers like Patrick Ewing, Jr. or Omar Yurtseven, but from a scoring perspective it might be Charles Smith. Both can score in bunches and neither are afraid of the big moment. Look no further than the brace he scored in the BE final against Providence including a cooly taken penalty.
DH: Wow, Casual Hoya nation may have some thoughts on your use of the adjective “great” to describe the current Heat reserve center’s tenure on the Hilltop. Stoy reminds me of Derek Dodson- another Hoya striker and legend who hailed from greater Chicago. Selfless, fun to play with, great feet.
Will Sands: TG: He looks eerily similar to a US national team player, however, his energy reminds me of Chris Wright. Both were relentless with great engines.
DH: Chris Wright absolutely spot-on. And yes, that look-alike is an actual twin- as brother James stars for NYCFC in the MLS and earned his first cap in World Cup Qualifying this year. Plus, the Sands family has two older sisters who my deep research suggests were actually better players than the boys. When we talk great attacking left backs in Georgetown history, hard not to think about the OG- Jimmy Nealis. For those who follow the USMNT, Sands is deployed in a very similar fashion as Sergino Dest. Defends as a left back, attacks as much more of a classic left wing. Opponents shiver when Will is isolated 1:1.
TG: How do you have time to do research on the Sands sisters soccer careers?
Chris Hegardt: DH: If you are looking for an “ankle breaker” on the pitch, this sophomore as close as you are going to come. You can see it on the second goal against Georgia State- making defenders look silly. Dare I say, not dissimilar than the Iverson crossover. Georgetown soccer historians will remember midfielder Gil Ascunce. I see some similarities.
TG: Hold on. You just compared Hegardt to our sophomore year floor-mate in Copley? I can’t let you do that. Hegardt is brilliant, even magical at times, but not AI.
DH: I simply compared the Hegardt shake and bake to the AI crossover. I stand by it.
Zack Riviere: Austin Freeman – everything is so smooth for Zach. Freeman never seemed hurried on the offensive side of the ball and Zach is similar. His touch is exquisite and the game sees slow to him even when the pressure is highest.
DH: A lot of Phil Foden here.
Aidan Rocha: Perry McDonald. Both were freshman on national championship teams and both are fearless. They combine great fight and talent and both grew into more important roles as their careers advanced. I think Aidan wins the tattoo battle though…
DH: Right back is the most dominant position in Hoya soccer history. Recent years have given us current MLSers Dylan Nealis and Keegan Rosenberry…but Aidan reminds me of the original mid-90s great, a teammate of ours, Wisconsin’s own Brandon Lieb.
TG: I am sure Brandon and his post-soccer career as a beverage entrepreneur can provide the needed addition to our hot chocolate.
Brian Wiese: I don’t say this lightly. It is the late, great Coach Thompson. Big John built Hoya hoops into the dominant basketball program in the early 80s and Brian has done the same with the soccer program over the last 10 years. Coach Thompson had his trademark towel and Coach Wiese has his trademark gum chewing. When all is said and done, I believe Brian will have more national championships than Coach Thompson.
DH: Well said. Both also care deeply about their role as actual parents for their children (Brian alongside his WAY better half Becky)…and both focus intently developing young men as future leaders regardless of whether their athletic years continue or stop at age 22.
Dave Nolan (had to get something in this piece about the remarkable Women’s soccer program): TG: It is brilliant what Coach Nolan has done. Two college cup appearances and Big East Champions 5 of the last 6 years. However, I am concerned that he is looking to take my job.
DH: Yes, when yet another contract dispute had you missing a game this fall, I got on the phone to the bullpen and pulled in the wily veteran Irishman to the booth. Not sure he was more insightful than you…but much better voice and ratings did rise.
TG: Dave knows more about the game and is wittier than me, but, he is not made for TV work. Radio is fine…
DH: Think about the fact that Hoyas have combined to win 10 of the last 14 soccer conference championships- wow. #soccerschool
How about an under-the-radar player or storyline to watch for the Hoyas in the upcoming game and the rest of the tourney? TG: Sophomore Marlon Tabora – I am able to answer this before Danny because we both agree that he provides ao much to this team when he is on the field. He hits great re-starts. He works incredibly hard and is so important to how Georgetown likes to press. He will find the back of the net during the NCAA tournament.
DH: So we have a freshman midfielder named Joe Buck. Will play an important role as a reserve…and I believe he also will find the net. But what I really want is to get “the other Joe Buck” to pay attention to our broadcasts and get a viral clip going of a major Hoya Joe Buck highlight…and then we can also get Helfrich/Greaser trending to replace Buck/Aikman.
So, we split two games with Providence already this year. 3-0 loss in Rhode Island and the 2-1 OT win at home in Big East final. What makes Providence such a difficult matchup?
TG: Great talent. Great experience. And a coach in Craig Stewart who has built a program that if it were not for Georgetown, would be considered the class of the conference. Let’s not forget that in the last decade they have been to a College Cup, played in another Elite 8 and won 2 Big East Championships. This will be a must see trilogy much like Ali/ Frazier.
DH: Really hard-nosed midfield anchored by Portuguese international Paulo Lima- the stiffest test for the Polvara-Zawadzki duo in the country.
You mention 5th year Providence senior Paulo Lima. Fits the “hasn’t this person been playing in college for 12 years” persona. Who is your favorite Big East basketball version of that persona through the years? TG: That is a great question. Danny and I have talked about this for years. I will give you a starting 5 of Malik Sealy (St. John’s), Sam Young (Pitt), Ryan Gomes (Providence), Marshon Brooks (Providence) and Scottie Reynolds (Villanova).
DH: Gerry McNamara was terrific in his 7 years for Coach Boeheim.
Lets close with a little NCAA men’s soccer tournament bracketology. Give us your Final 4: TG: New Hampshire, Pitt, Washington (whose coach is Danny’s favorite coach not with the initials BW) and Georgetown.
DH: I do love the program that Jamie Clark has built in Seattle. And I do believe we will see a Final 4 matchup between Clark and Wiese. Give me Kentucky and Hofstra on the Cinderella side of the bracket for an ACC-free Final Four.