Gyau Sees Positives in Howard’s Painful Loss

Written by Ian Thomson

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Howard University’s storied men’s program has endured the leanest of times in recent seasons with the Bison failing to win a single game last year.

The 2016 class got off the mark last Saturday with a 2-0 win over Virginia Military Institute at Howard’s William H. Greene Stadium. Yesterday’s cruel overtime defeat to Campbell saw the Bison slip to a 1-3 record on the year although head coach Phillip Gyau saw enough in his players’ performances to suggest that brighter times lie ahead for his side.

“I’m happy with the way they played, with the effort, and I’m looking forward to some good things coming this season,” Gyau told The Soccer Observer.

Campbell enjoyed the best of the opening exchanges. Howard’s goalkeeper Kenneth Hersey made a great reflex save to deny Seth Jones on 10 minutes before foiling Helgi Jonsson one minute later. Gyau’s midfield trio of Nigel Grant, Elliott Howe and Joel Pagan labored to connect with short passes during a scrappy first half. Pagan almost completed one impressive sequence on 16 minutes when he raced onto Quentin Valiente’s through ball only to be foiled by Campbell goalkeeper Matthew Mozynski’s brave stop.

Howard took advantage of the stiff, refreshing breeze at their backs in the second period to push incessantly for a winner. Freshman striker Cheick Traore thumped the right post on the hour with a fizzing drive from 30 yards out. Valiente jinked past two defenders to the endline only to see his cross narrowly eluding his teammates in the 6-yard box. Substitute Daniel Hart then struck Mozynski’s other post on 78 minutes after beating the goalkeeper with a drilled shot to his near side.

The Bison’s clearest chance perhaps arrived with two minutes remaining when the tricky Valiente again found his way past his marker to deliver a dangerous ball from the right flank. Campbell’s defense struggled to clear and Gavin Boyer snatched at his volley to send it over the crossbar from close range.

There was a sense that Howard could pay for those misses when Campbell started overtime with the wind behind them. Jake Dressman’s honesty worked in the Bison’s favor in the opening seconds of extra time when Howe appeared to whack the visiting player’s shins inside the penalty area.

Campbell kept the pressure on with Dressman’s long throw on 94 minutes. Midfielder Gideon Betz climbed at the front post to flick a header past Howard’s static defenders and into the far corner of Hersey’s net to end the contest.

Howard’s proud history

Howard is a historically black university serving the African-American community with about 90 percent of its students representing that demographic. Its soccer program rose to prominence in tandem with the civil rights movement with a first NCAA Division I title in any team sport for a black college being lifted in 1971. That 3-2 victory over two-time defending champion Saint Louis was later annulled amid eligibility issues relating to Howard’s foreign players.

Former head coach Lincoln Phillips led the Bison back to the NCAA championship final in 1974 after a perfect run of 18 wins during the season. Saint Louis was again the opponent and was again two-time defending champions after recovering from that 1971 season to claim its ninth and tenth titles in 15 seasons of the national tournament.

The fierce on-field rivalry between the Bison and the Billikens deepened in 1972 when Saint Louis edged a 2-1 win in overtime in the semifinal. Howard reversed that result when Nigerian forward Kenneth Ilodigwe converted a cross from Jamaican Richard Davy in the fourth period of overtime at Busch Memorial Stadium in St. Louis. Howard belatedly had its first soccer crown.

Current coach Gyau represented the program for four years from 1982 to 1985. The Bison returned to the NCAA championship final in 1988 only to lose by a single goal against Indiana. Success has proved elusive in recent decades. Howard has not participated in the NCAA Tournament since 1997.

Gyau’s rebuild

This is Gyau’s third year at the helm. He inherited a team that went 1-17 during a 2013 season that ended with a farcical 9-0 loss at a struggling Pittsburgh side and a 6-0 drubbing at the New Jersey Institute of Technology. Gyau’s first game in charge was a 7-0 reverse at George Mason and his first campaign ended with four straight defeats for a combined score of 0-18. Throw in last year’s 0-17-2 record and it has been a painful start for the 6-time United States national team player.

Gyau has introduced a lot of youngsters into his program in a bid to turn results around. Four of his starters on Tuesday were freshmen. Three were sophomores. Goalkeeper Hersey was the only senior among 17 players to see action. Indeed, there are only three seniors on Howard’s 32-man roster compared with 11 freshmen and nine sophomores.

Andres Gomez is one young player to make an immediate impact this year with both goals in the Bison’s win over VMI. His late red card in that game for a petulant grab at an opponent left Gyau short of attacking nous in midfield yesterday. The absence of Trinidad & Tobago Under-23 national team midfielder Xavier Rajpaul and Jamaican freshman Javauni Garwood also curbed Howard’s offensive threat.

All three players should be available this weekend when the Bison has a chance to boost its record. Saint Joseph’s University visits Greene Stadium on Friday evening with LIU Brooklyn coming to the capital on Sunday.

A solid outing for Gyau’s defense also left him with confidence for the coming weeks. Centerbacks Isaac Mbappe and Joel Cunningham both stand 6 feet 4 inches and show great mobility and aerial dominance while freshman fullbacks Tyler Lynton and Tyler Hartman look comfortable in possession and capable of supporting the attack.

“Nobody is expecting anything from us, but I’ve brought in some good young players,” Gyau said. “I really think we’re going to get some victories this year.

“We’re going to turn the corner.”

Starting Lineups:

Howard (4-3-3): Kenneth Hersey – Tyler Hartman, Joel Cunningham, Isaac Mbappe, Tyler Lynton – Nigel Grant, Joel Pagan, Elliott Howe – Victor Guirma, Cheick Traore, Quentin Valiente

Campbell (4-4-2): Matthew Mozynski – Samuel Orisatoki, Travis Gonzalez, Daniel Mukuna, Edward Fulwood – Gabe Parrish, Josh Signey, Gideon Betz, Akwasi Adu – Helgi Jonsson, Seth Jones


Referee: Joe Mendes | Assistants: Korey Carter, Eric Bray

Scoring Summary:

94’ | CAM – Gideon Betz (Jake Dressman)


63’ | CAM – Jake Dressman (yellow)

87’ | CAM – Travis Gonzalez (yellow)