Even at 17-2 and hovering around the top of the West Virginia High School Soccer Coaches Association boys rankings all year, a 1-0 loss on the road at Bridgeport on Saturday let George Washington coach Erik Engle know something had to change.
As it turned out, a slight shuffle in the lineup was just the trick.
Senior Zak Abdul-Jalil, a two-time first-team, Class AAA All-State selection at defender, was inserted at forward on Tuesday night and it sparked a four-goal uprising as the Patriots breezed past Class AA-A contender Winfield 4-1 at Trace Fork. The loss snapped a 41-game unbeaten streak for the Generals (12-1-4) dating back to a 2-1 overtime loss in a regional final to Nitro on Oct. 26, 2017.
And while the Generals will need to regroup a bit with sectionals starting next week, GW (18-2) finds itself riding high again and, maybe, just at the right time.
“We made a couple of changes, put Zak up front, he’s never played striker before ever, but with the energy he brings, it’s contagious,” Engle said. “Everybody gets excited anytime he’s around the ball and they want to be a part of it so we said, ‘You know what, we’re going to do something to change the mojo we’ve had the last four games.’ We have gotten into a rut, our formation was stale a little bit and we just needed something that looked different that gave them a reason to focus more than they had been. It worked.”
To say the least. Abdul-Jalil kicked off the scoring with 22:11 remaining in the first half and EJ Davis added a goal less than four minutes later to give the Patriots a 2-0 lead at halftime. Those two scores highlighted a dominant first half in terms of possession that stretched out for most of the game.
Max Trethewey was next in line, scoring 5:24 into the second half on a ball Abdul-Jalil headed toward the goal. By the time Wilson Fife scored with 19:47 remaining in the game, GW held a 4-0 lead.
“Yesterday in practice coach told me, ‘We’re going to put you up top and see how it goes,’” Abdul Jalil said. “I guess it went alright.”
Along the way, GW outshot Winfield 9-4 with goalie Kevin Tiffey making three saves before exiting late in the game. Winfield’s Caleb Hawks prevented the shutout with a goal with 3:15 remaining to provide the final score.
“You play a team like GW with that kind of speed and that kind of skill level — they’re a great team and anytime you make a mistake you pay for it and we made a lot of mistakes,” Winfield coach Mike Foster said. “We knew when we came up here they had more speed than we have, we just did the best we could. Our players didn’t quit, but it is what it is.”
Stretching even further back in time, Tuesday marked Winfield’s first regular-season loss since a 2-0 defeat to Charleston Catholic on Sept. 27, 2017. This year’s Generals team has a much different look after losing four All-State players from a year ago. The Generals have had to rely on defense and grit more so than ever as the high-scoring offense that have been the team’s trademark hasn’t come to fruition yet. Though a week before sectionals isn’t a time to reflect, Foster did on the streak and how his team had remained the Kanawha Valley’s last unbeaten until Tuesday.
“This year, our defense has kept us in,” Foster said. “It’s something I’m not used to. I’m used to having a really good offense and we just can’t seem to get that end going this year. We’ve won this year on our defense, so it’s different. I’m used to scoring 120, 140 goals in a year and we’re around 60-some. But we’ve been finding a way to win.”
Nathan Lanham made five saves for Winfield.