By Drew Costley
George Mason High School’s boys varsity soccer team redeemed itself last Friday with a 3-2 victory over Riverheads High School in the Region 2A East championship, after losing the regional championship last year. The George Mason Mustangs beat Maggie L. Walker Governor’s School 5-2 in the semifinal last Wednesday to make it to their match against the Riverheads Gladiators. George Mason Head Coach Frank Spinello said the win over the Maggie Walker Green Dragons was a “great game” in many ways.
“We scored first and then they took a 2-1 lead, so we had to fight to come back. We were able to go into halftime with a 3-2 lead, which showed a lot of maturity and commitment,” Spinello said. “To do it against a great opponent was wonderful to see.”
Sophomore striker Elliot Mercado led the Mustangs in scoring with two goals against the Green Dragons. Senior midfielders Paul Darmstadter and Sinan Kokuuslu and junior defender Henderson Beam each added a goal to the Mustangs’ tally. Kokuuslu, Mercado, junior goalkeeper Daniel Donovan, sophomore midfielder Grant Goodwin and sophomore striker Raheem Lawal each had one assist for the Mustangs.
Spinello said Goodwin and junior midfielder Kavon Nowroozi “did a great job pressuring the midfield.” Kokuuslu wore down the Green Dragons’ defense and Darmstadter, Mercado, and Lawal were constant threats in the match.
The Green Dragons’ goals came on set pieces – one was a long throw and the other was a free kick, both of which were finished with headers – in the first half. They didn’t score during the second half.
“Danny [Donovan] came up with a couple of huge saves that changed the match and allowed us some breathing room. … [He] did a great job of identifying their runs, and we made the proper adjustments at halftime,” Spinello said. “It showed how valuable Danny is to our team – he makes great saves when we need them, but more so he is mentally sharp and contributes in every facet that a goalkeeper can.”
Donovan had 11 saves against the Green Dragons and his contribution to the Mustangs’ offense actually came from the defensive end. He started a counter attack with a punt that led to the final goal of the game, according to Spinello. He said the Mustangs’ next match, the Region 2A East championship, posed several challenges for his team on and off the field.
“We had a long bus ride, a hostile crowd, some very questionable officiating, and a small, choppy field,” Spinello said. “It took us some time to get used to the elements, but when we settled down we were able to play our type of match. It just took longer than we would have liked.”
The Gladiators were the first to score on a breakaway in the 13th minute. The Mustangs didn’t answer back until the 37th minute of the match when Mercado knocked in a corner kick from Nowroozi to tie the game 1-1 at halftime. Spinello said Mercado’s goal helped the Mustangs go into half “more relaxed.”
Mercado and Darmstadter scored goals in the second half to put the Mustangs ahead 3-1 before the Gladiators scored the final goal of the match on a penalty kick. Kokuuslu had the assist on Darmstadter’s goal.
Spinello said the Mustangs’ regional championship win was only an appetizer to a bigger meal they want to feast on this weekend at the state championship.
“Our goal this year was to win all the trophies available. We feel great about winning the region, but we know our job is not finished,” Spinello said. “We have an appetite for the big one this weekend; that is the one that we have sacrificed and worked hard for all season.”
The Mustangs play James River High School Friday at Salem High School in the semifinals of the state tournament. If they win, the Mustangs will face the winner of the Gladiators’ semifinal match against Martinsville High School on Saturday in the state championship at Radford University.