By: Paul Coro
is not your ordinary freshman.
It is not just because he is a 22-year-old who came to Grand Canyon from Cyprus and has led GCU to its first NCAA Division I men's soccer tournament appearance as one of the nation's best goalkeepers.
It is because the Lopes' goal is not the first important fortress he ever protected.
For 18 months before coming to GCU, Tasouris performed mandatory service in the Cypriot National Guard. He took overnight and early morning shifts at his base's entry point with a G3 battle rifle before heading off to club soccer practice later in most days.
Experienced in not allowing trespassers or balls to get by him, Tasouris let in a visitor to his Mediterranean Sea island field and home a year ago.
A Cyprus contact was communicating with GCU associate head coach Kevin Doyle
about another player when the Lopes' recruiting needs for a goalkeeper came up. Tipped off on Tasouris, Doyle watched video of the goalkeeper's dynamic ability with his national team and Cyprus' top club in the Union of European Football Association (UEFA) Youth Champions League.
"Then and there, I decided that I needed to go to Cyprus," Doyle said.
Tasouris' talent commanded interest from other U.S. colleges, but Doyle was the only coach to come to his hometown of Nicosia to watch him. Tasouris committed on the spot and has proved to be a difference-maker for a Lopes team that did not allow a goal during the WAC Tournament, earning Tasouris honors as College Soccer News
Player of the Week and bringing the conference trophy to GCU. That advanced the Lopes to an NCAA tournament first-round game Thursday night at UC Irvine.
"I've never had that kind of experience in my life," Tasouris said. "I'm so happy that I came here.
"It's amazing. What I saw in movies about American colleges, I came and found here. Games, cheerleaders, fans. It's a great experience."
It also has not been easy to be more than 7,000 miles away from his parents and two brothers for the first time. It helped that GCU recruited two more players from Cyprus, midfielders Pambos Aristotelous
and Marios Andreou
, and has a multicultural team with 14 international players.
Tasouris felt the pride coming from home as friends and family watched his games on GCU live streams at 5 a.m. and then texted praise as he accumulated nine shutouts this season.
But something was missing until last week, when Doyle called Tasouris to meet him in the team hotel's lobby before the WAC Tournament in Seattle. Tasouris initially did not recognize a man standing with Doyle because it had been so long since he had seen his father, Marios.
After 20 hours of flights, his father stayed in Seattle for the entire tournament, in which Tasouris never allowed a goal through three matches to extend GCU's streak of shutout minutes to 320.
"Before the tournament, he told me, 'No matter what happens, you'll always be my No. 1,' " Tasouris said. "Normally, I play 100 percent. That was an extra push. I do most things to make myself happy, but making my parents happy is a whole other thing."
Tasouris made his teammates and coaches happy, too, with match-saving saves and leadership from the back of a defense that was fortified down the stretch of the season by senior Sam Gardner
, freshman Esai Easley
and junior Julien Armaroli
In the past four games, GCU twice blanked Air Force, ranked No. 8 and No. 13 at those times. The Falcons boast the nation's third-leading offense, and their scoring average (2.82 goals per game) in their other 17 matches would lead the nation if they had not been shut out twice by GCU.
Tasouris leads the nation in save percentage, thwarting 87 percent of the shots on goal that he faces.
"George is super-athletic," Doyle said. "He has a work rate that you wouldn't believe. He's completely brave. He's confident. His timing in the air and ability to read balls traveling into the box is impeccable. He truthfully really has few flaws from a goalkeeping perspective. He is, if not the, one of the best goalkeepers in college soccer today. He's special."
Tasouris grew up playing soccer in a family tradition that started with his grandfather, Andreas, playing for the top Cyprus club, APOEL Nicosia FC.
He thrived through the youth academies and clubs but needed a different opportunity to achieve his goals of playing professional soccer.
Tasouris did not know what a WAC championship or NCAA tournament was upon arrival in Phoenix, but the international language of competing for a championship resonated with him and his fellow Cypriots.
"They've accepted us and we made that thing in there look like a family," Tasouris said. "We didn't know anyone. But all of us, we make a pretty good family. We're all from different cultures of the world. We're just good kids. Nobody has too much of an idea of himself. We're team players."
Follow Paul Coro on Twitter: @paulcoro.