Redshirt junior Dustin Butcher leaps to save a shot on goal in the team’s match-up against the University of Virginia. The Patriots lost the match 1-0.

As the NFL preseason continues to press forward, the George Mason men’s soccer team seems to have a quarterback controversy of their own.
After a string of injuries landed freshman Sean Cote in goal last season, all four of the men’s soccer team’s goalies look healthy and ready to play this season, forcing coach Greg Andrulis to choose between a handful of quality keepers.
Injuries plagued the men’s soccer team for the entire 2010 season. While the rest of the team is still banged up, all four of the team’s goalies look healthy enough to play this season.
Dustin Butcher started in goal for the Patriots during last year’s campaign as a sophomore, but split time with Cote over the first four games before injury handed the full-time job to the freshman.
“Mark [Bixler] got hurt with his ankle then Dustin hurt his hand,” said Andrulis, who is entering his sixth season in green and gold. “The way we went through the course of the year, three of them got good experience and played and we finished with Sean in the net. So all three had a good year.”
Butcher’s first chance came in his third year with the team. Before that, his predecessor Sean Kelley was widely regarded as one of the top goalkeepers in the CAA. In his senior season of 2009, Kelley started all 18 contests, making 82 saves and allowing 18 goals. Most impressively, he compiled five shutouts over the course of the season.
In that same season, Butcher played just 14 minutes, helping finish a shutout of Longwood University in the sixth match of the year, the final match before facing a conference opponent. Fortunately for him, he was allowed to redshirt his first year while learning under the veteran presence of a dominant keeper.
“Coming in the first few years, I only played one game in the fall. Playing behind Sean Kelley, I learned a lot in those few years,” Butcher said. “I learned a lot from Sean when I was a freshman so I’m just trying to help these guys out too, so they get the same out of it when I did when I was their age.”
Through the first four games of 2010, Cote compiled a 2-0 record. Butcher put together a 1-1 record, the loss coming as a result of a goal made seven minutes into overtime by Penn State.
Those few minutes turned out to be Butcher’s only time in goal last season, but he learned some valuable lessons all the same.
“I learned how to manage myself in games,” Butcher said. “Definitely last year helped me manage myself, on and off the field, kind of know what I need to do to be successful. I think what’s really what is going to help me out this year is learning from that and learning from the spring.”
Following the injury, freshmen Cote and Bixler were left to fight for the start in goal.
Cote’s job was nearly undisputed but after the team started out the season 4-1, the Patriots went winless over the next four games, prompting a change.
Bixler could not change the team’s fate as they took a 1-2 loss against William & Mary and were down in their next match against Towson 0-1 when he was removed from the game.
Cote took the job back and ran with it.
“Game time, there’s no substitute for,” Andrulis said. “You’ve got to get out there and play and you have to have success and you’ve got to have some failures to learn from those experiences. For a freshman, [Cote] got an awful lot of minutes in him and he’s better for that.”
Regardless of Cote’s experience in 2010, Butcher took both starts in goal for the preseason, taking a 1-0 win to West Virginia before a 0-1 loss to Virginia. In close matches against top teams, Butcher held his own. Yet he went to Boston College on Friday and allowed three goals without managing a save. Mason pulled to within a goal twice but were not able to tie or overcome the Eagles.
While the battle has become fierce between experienced players, Butcher has taken the start in goal for each of the last three games. Both his experience over multiple years and his work with Kelley seem to be setting him apart from the competition.
“They’re very close,” Andrulis said. “It’s one of the things that the coaching staff has spent an awful lot of time on and they’re very, very close. It’s a difficult decision. But [Butcher] does some things as a veteran; his distribution skills are probably the best out of the guys.”
Nobody is taking a seat back. Everybody knows there is still a battle to be won. It is never over.
“There’s always a battle,” Butcher said. “There’s a battle at every position. Coaches say it and I know they mean it. It helps me out and it helps everybody out that we need to be sharp every day.”
Butcher will likely be in goal as the Patriots return to action at home Thursday at 7:30 p.m.