For the Blue Demons, it's Simple: Win Or Go Home
WASHINGTON, D.C. - The mission is simple, and yet so daunting.
Advancing to the BIG EAST final four for the third year in a row requires DePaul to win back-to-back road games against playoff competition.
Winning on the road is difficult enough in the regular season. Now, you're going against the best this conference has to offer.
The journey begins at 1 p.m. (Chicago time) on Wednesday in our nation's capital when DePaul (8-9-1, 5-6-0 in the BIG EAST) steps onto the natural grass at North Kehoe Field to face Georgetown (9-8-1, 6-5-0).
As you can see by the teams' records, there's not a whole lot to separate these two playoff qualifiers. The Blue Demons are more offensive, outscoring Georgetown 26-21.
But the Hoyas have only given up 17 goals in 18 matches while DePaul has allowed 33 goals in 18 games. Georgetown goalkeepers Mark Wilber and Matthew Brutto have combined for eight shutouts---five by Wilber.
Led by Jose Colchao (four goals, 13 points) and Seth C'Debaca (three goals, 11 points), Georgetown has outscored its opponents 21-17 and outpointed them 67-54. The Hoyas have 95 corner kicks to 69 for the opposition.
DePaul coach Craig Blazer has challenged his players to come up with the kind of performance that had them virtually neutralize then-No. 6 USF last Wednesday before falling 1-0 in Tampa.
"Even though we lost, that was one of our best games of the season," Blazer said. "Georgetown, this could be our last game of the season---the final game of their careers for the seniors.
"How will they respond to this opportunity?"
Blazer is hopeful his team will have a post-Louisville response.
The low point of 2009 came on Oct. 3 when then-No. 17 Louisville blasted the Blue Demons 6-0 at Wish Field. The whole team was down, and all kinds of doubts crept through the players' minds.
Was this a one-game anomaly, or the beginning of a precipitous slide?
The answer came in a gutsy 2-1 overtime victory at Cincinnati four days later as DePaul overcame a 1-0 deficit with an Alex Mangan goal in the second half and Steffen Vroom's game-winner in overtime.
"We've responded well this year when confronted by adversity," Blazer said. "What were we going to do after the Louisville loss? They showed what they were made of against Cincinnati."
Vroom is a senior going out in style with career highs this season in goals (seven), assists (four) and points (18). He's not ready to start packing up the memories just yet.
"That this could be the last game of my career---yeah, it's in the back of my mind," Vroom said. "But we're all focused on trying to keep this season going as long as possible.
"Last year we had to go to Connecticut for the quarterfinals and play without Erich Reichmann (red card), Alex Mangan and myself (injuries). Everyone was betting against us, but the guys came up with an amazing effort and won.
"On Wednesday, it's now or never. It's time to throw everything you have down on the table."
Although DePaul has lost its last two games---getting shut out in back-to-back matches for the first time this season---Georgetown has also struggled.
The Hoyas have likewise lost two in a row and five of their last six. In fact, they are currently on a four-game losing streak at North Kehoe Field.
Both DePaul and Georgetown have gone 4-3 against seven common opponents.
"We responded well to the Louisville loss, and now we need a response to the challenge of the BIG EAST tournament," Blazer said. "We can either move on in the tournament, or go home. None of us in our conference feel real comfortable about at-large berths in the NCAA tournament.
"How will our players respond knowing this could be their last game? Can they play like they did last Wednesday at USF?"