by Matt Delaney
With the Conference 35 crown safely in-hand after a 7-0 victory over Central High School last Thursday, George Mason’s varsity boys soccer team stormed into the 2A East Regional quarterfinal with a 9-1 win against Stuarts Draft High School on Memorial Day.
Squaring off with Stuarts Draft was the first step in the most arduous stretch of the season for Mason, and though the Cougars entered with a 14-1-1 record and plenty of talent, they were taken out of sorts early and succumbed to the same fate most of the Mustangs’ opponents had.
“We were playing some of our best football,” senior midfielder Samsudeen Sallah said. “Just playing one touch everywhere and breaking them down that way because they couldn’t keep up with the movement. We found that next level that we knew we can get to.”
Both teams traded possessions for the first five minutes, giving the impression the game would be neck and neck throughout. But when junior midfielder Olo Sembera Baracco’s corner kick found senior midfielder Grant Goodwin’s foot for Mason’s first goal, and moments later Goodwin assisted senior forward Donal Reyes de Leon’s for the Mustangs’ second, the game changed. The two goal deficit took the wind out of the Cougars’ sails.
From then on Stuarts Draft struggled offensively and was relegated to their own defensive zone. Conversely, Mason began to turn up the heat around the Cougars’ net. A four-goal spree midway through the first half started with scores from sophomore forward Kevin Valle, Goodwin and two from Reyes de Leon, putting the game away by halftime with a 6-0 lead.
The last goal in that spurt came on a crafty passing chain between Mercado, Sallah and Goodwin before finally being lobbed into Reyes de Leon for the finisher. While the crowd were wowed over Mason’s play, the Mustangs could be heard exclaiming “That’s how we play” from the field as they embraced each other.
“That’s exactly what we try and do,” head coach Frank Spinello said. “Get it off our feet quickly and hit space. Seems like we get in trouble when we take three, four or five touches, but when we get it off in one or two touches that’s when we’re deadly.”
Central proved worthy of sparring with Mason, but ultimately they couldn’t endure 80 minutes against Mason’s offense. An initial burst from senior forward Elliot Mercado notched two goals for the Mustangs in the opening four minutes, but Mason went cold until near the end of the first half when senior midfielder Samsudeen Sallah added Mason’s third on an assist from junior midfielder Olo Sembera Baracco.
The offense was more steady in the second half as senior Grant Goodwin and junior forward Riley Marcus tallied goals along with Mercado and Sallah.
Mason hosted Maggie Walker Governor’s School for the regional semifinal on Wednesday, June 1, but results of the match were not available at press time.