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Youth Boys Feb 25, 2016

Undefeated BW Gottschee U-17/18 side eyes redemption, not perfection

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The BW Gottschee Academy U-15/16 team was in a quality position to advance entering the final stage of group play in the U.S. Soccer Development Academy playoffs last June.

BW Gottschee, the top-seeded team in Group D and the No. 3-seed overall, secured a win and a tie in its first two group-play matches and sat two points behind 10th seeded Georgia United, which it was set to play in its final contest. Head coach Dennis McGowan’s side finished 19-2-5 while out scoring its opponents, 63-15, in the regular season, and a victory over Georgia United would put this squad into the quarterfinals.

But all that came out of that game for BW Gottschee was disappointment. Georgia United, which opened the scoring in the 12th minute, finished with three-first half goals and cruised to a 4-0 win. It was just the second time BW Gottschee had been held scoreless in 29 games. McGowan called it an “absolute lumping.”

“It was really tough because with a lot of injuries and we got a man sent off,” said forward Sean McGowan, who leads this year’s team with 10 goals. “It was a messy game.”

Fast-forward eight months, and that lopsided defeat feels like distant memory for this team, much of which has moved up, along with coach McGowan, to the U17/18 division. BW Gottschee has not lost in 15 matches and will enter the second half of the season as nation’s best squad when play starts back up March 5.

And much of this performance stems from last year’s heartbreak. Using that motivation, it appears BW Gottschee has the piece to not only advance out of the group stage but also challenge of a Development Academy title.

“It was a kind of disappointing end to the year last year, which has given us a bit of something to beat this year,” Sean McGowan said. “The core of last year has basically come back this year, and we’re only added pieces to make it stronger and stronger, so everything’s been clicking for us.”

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Goalkeeper coach Stephan Rigaud saw the possibility for a special season not long after the team’s blowout loss to Georgia United. While he described the players were “still pretty gutted” at the airport waiting for their flight back to Queens, New York, Rigaud noticed a difference the third week of August after taking some time off.

It was the first practice of the season.

“You could tell that the zip was there,” Rigaud said. “It kind of got rid of the disappointment, and we were ready to go.”

BW Gottschee has scored 36 times and allowed four goals, the best mark in the entire Development Academy, and these statistics come from a tight-knit squad mixed with a few talented newcomers.

McGowan said he’s played with many of his teammates since he was little, giving BW Gottschee a type of chemistry he said other Academy teams might not possess.

Rigaud, meanwhile, refers to the team as a brotherhood. They buy in to what their coach preaches both on the practice fields and from the sidelines.

“We’ve lost plenty. We’ve won plenty,” coach McGowan said. “We just always try and keep as tight as we can in the game. And then we grow into the game more and more and usually we’re looking for a solution at the end to try and come out on top. So I guess the major difference is the maturity and the core of the group that’s been there for so long.”

Rigaud added that BW Gottschee is an even deeper team than last year thanks to several key additions. The Fernandes brothers, Gustavo and Gabriel, came over from Met Oval this season and have been starters for the majority of BW Gottschee’s matches. Their transition has been especially smooth in part because of the Fernanedes family’s connection to Rigaud, a former teammate of their older brother Leo Fernandes, who now plays in MLS for the Philadelphia Union.

Among the other newcomers are right back Chris Dalrymple and forward Zaire Bartley, who got called up to the Dominican Republic U-20 men’s national team. Bartley has moved around during his Academy career — he went from BW Gottschee to New York Red Bulls and back again — but now he’s tied for second on the squad with five goals.

“He’s definitely a bit more quality up top now,” Rigaud said, “so the team is definitely deeper than the year before.”

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The title of top scorer goes to a returning player, though, as Sean McGowan, the coach’s son, leads the team with 10 scores. He credited his teammates for getting him the ball in quality spots for him to work with. It’s his job to finish it, which he has done more times than not this season.

“A lot of the goals are on a platter for him,” coach Dennis McGowan said. “Most of the work is done for him, and then he’s just got to keep his cool and get it past the keeper.”

Defensively, BW Gottschee has a versatile back four that has all but shut down their opponents so far this season. Captain Benjamin Issroff leads the defense, while Gustavo Fernandes and Casey Barone occupy the center back positions.

McGowan, who also rotates Dalrymple, Dylan Nealis, Bernie Wright and Christian Saint Louis into the back four, will use different formations based on matchup. Sometimes he’s go with three center backs, which play more as defensive midfielders, or he’ll opt for two center backs that tend to stay near the net. Both formations have been very successful this season in locking down opposing attacks.

“They all have good soccer IQs and they can digest their tactics,” McGowan said. “We’ve been able to improvise with a couple of different formations and not just stay stuck with one.”

BW Gottschee has used two goalkeepers in Matthew Dabrowski and Xavier Gomez, though Rigaud, who works extensively with the netminders, said Dabrowski would be the likely candidate to start the crucial games BW Gottschee will play later in the season.

Dabrowski started 18 games for BW Gotschee’s U15/16 squad last year and helped a team that was tied for the least goals allowed in the Northeast Division. He was also the starting goalkeeper when Georgia United put a four-spot on the scoreboard to end the then No. 3-seed’s season.

But in seeing Dabrowski start 12 of the squad’s 15 games this season, Rigaud said the goalkeeper has a better mentality and is more accountable for his performances on the pitch.

Dabrowski brought that new-found mindset into the Winter Showcase in Lakewood, Florida, in early December. His team entered the event with the Academy’s best record, so it drew matches against three against Chargers Soccer Club, Houston Dynamo and San Jose Earthquakes, three of the best teams in the league at that time.

These were exactly the type of games McGowan envisioned his team playing before the year.

“Our immediate goal during the regular season was to set ourselves up with the best possible record we could so…they couldn’t ignore us,” McGowan said. “We wanted the best possible games we could for the showcase so that we could replicate a playoff scenario — try and get out of the group — and be relevant in June.”

Had these games been played six months later, BW Gottschee would have surpassed last year’s mark and marched into the quarterfinals with ease. It outscored its opponents 7-0, further solidifying itself as a legitimate contender to take home the Academy crown.

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After taking a few weeks off to celebrate the winter holidays, BW Gottschee returned to training Jan. 3. Since then, the team has practiced four nights per week for about 90 minutes and has played one friendly each weekend to stay in shape.

And all of this is work in done through the dead of winter. Teams on the West Coast can play all-year round, McGowan said, and so can the squads in the south, so the coach emphasizes his team’s need to keep up.

“We’d much prefer to be outside as soon as we can,” McGowan said. “As soon as we’re indoor, we’re figuring out how we’re going to get back outdoors.”

Soon enough, BW Gottschee will be back on the pitch to continue what has been a dominant season. It begins the second half of its campaign at home against Beachside SC on March. 13. The playoffs will start about two months later.

McGowan said his team didn’t set out to be 15-0 at this point. The players aren’t stressed about keeping the winning streak alive, and he said he believes someone will hand his team its first loss at some point.

He makes these remarks because to BW Gottschee, its overall record isn’t of utmost importance.

This squad has a bigger goal in mind.

“I do really feel that if we get out of the group, that you know what, we have a real chance,” Rigaud said. “I really believe that.”

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