Hoyas suddenly believe they can win the title

Georgetown's goal wasn't the College Cup. All the Hoyas wanted was to reach the Big East semifinals.

Having done both, the Hoyas (19-3-2) believe that despite their first appearance in the national semifinals, their rise over the last four years has prepared them to stake a claim for the biggest prize of all.

College cup
No. 3 Georgetown vs. No. 2 Maryland
NCAA men's soccer semifinals
When » Friday, 5 p.m.
Where » Regions Field,
Hoover, Ala.

"Our goal was to get to Red Bull Arena," midfielder Jimmy Nealis said. "Getting to that final is probably tougher than getting to this final that we're going to right now."

Nealis and fellow seniors Tommy Muller, Ian Christianson and Andy Riemer hadn't won a conference tournament game in their careers before reaching the Big East final last month. (Hurricane Sandy moved the tournament to PPL Park outside Philadelphia.) As freshmen they lost to DePaul in penalty kicks; as juniors a 2-1 defeat to St. John's cost them an NCAA at-large bid.

There's also the potential they flashed as sophomores in 2010, when Georgetown earned its first NCAA tournament berth since 1997. The Hoyas lost in the second round of that tournament on penalty kicks to North Carolina.

"They've lived it," Hoyas coach Brian Wiese said. "I think for them, it's a unique and unparalleled experience that they'll have to themselves. The one [class] above them, the one below them aren't in the same boat. It's under their stewardship that this thing has evolved. I think they take particular pride in what's happening and particular ownership of it."

The expectations now match the talent. Georgetown has had players turn professional in the past, but this spring all four seniors have legitimate prospects. Junior Steve Neumann (seven goals, 13 assists) is a MAC Hermann Trophy candidate, and there has been talk he will be lured to MLS early. Leading scorer Brandon Allen (15 goals) is a freshman.

On the field the Hoyas were inspired by watching FC Barcelona in person last spring. Emulating the Spanish team's possession and tough defensive pressure, Georgetown has produced a record number of wins. It plays right through mistakes, and Wiese said his best coaching move of the season was "not getting in their way."

"I think he really trusts the leadership of the players," Muller said. "He constantly affirms that in us, which gives us a lot of confidence."

The players decided that the Big East tournament was the priority.

"This group has never once said, 'We want to win a national championship,'?" Wiese said. "But this group has also believed that they could. When it became most realistic that they could is when they actually stopped talking about it."

The third-seeded Hoyas still will be underdogs against No. 2 Maryland (20-1-2), which leads the all-time series 28-0. That doesn't count Georgetown's preseason victory in 2011, a match in which Terrapins coach Sasho Cirovski had gotten on the Hoyas for treating the game as if it were the NCAA tournament. It foreshadowed the intensity expected this time around, and Georgetown's goals have been adjusted accordingly.

"We're not happy with just getting there," Riemer said. "We're there to win it. It's not a win-win situation when we play against Maryland on Friday night."