On game day, a team is often times judged by the power of its offense, rather than the strength of its defense. However, while scoring on the attack is a very important aspect of any game, being able to defend and block an opponent from capitalizing on goal opportunities is just as crucial. For the men’s soccer team, the back defensive line, also referred to as ‘the back four,’ provides the backbone necessary to anchor the Red on the field.
Holding down the back third of the field are junior defenders Jake Kirsch, Jake Rinow and Patrick Slogic and sophomore Peter Chodas. The four players, separating themselves into two outside backs and two central defenders, function together as a unit and act as a last resort before senior Rick Pflasterer in goal.
“The back four is like a unit — we work pretty well together,” Kirsch said. “I’d say as a unit we’re thinking of ourselves as the backbone of the team. We always seek to keep a shutout in every game with as few shots as possible.”
In addition to blocking and defending against many of the balls that are sent towards the goal line, the back line helps to set the momentum for the game, with its players moving to where they are most needed.
“When you look at [the back four] they are very important with keeping the possession, switching the field of play and switching the point of the attack,” said head coach Jaro Zawislan. “On the set pieces, you can see some of our backs going for offensive set pieces.”
Players like Slogic, who is 6-5, bring added height to the field, which supported by his athleticism is crucial for winning airballs and capitalizing on set pieces. According to Zawislan, each athlete on the field is splitting time between defending and attacking the ball, ensuring that the momentum moves in favor of a positive result for the Red.
“Every player on the team, going from goalkeeper to the defense to the forwards, everybody has as least some responsibilities in attack on offense when we have possession of the ball and everybody has responsibilities on the defensive side,” he said.
Bridging the gap between the offensive and defensive lines, sit players like junior midfielder Ben Williams.
“[Williams] helps connect [the backline] with the midfield,” Slogic said. “When we have the ball, he helps us keep possession and help us move the ball up the field. Defensively, he helps in stopping the attack before it gets to us, and also with directing the team to one side of the field or the other.”
A transition player on the field, Williams helps to direct the ball away from the back line and back toward the attacking forwards.
“My job is to basically clean up anything in front of me and prevent the ball from getting to [the back line] defensively,” Williams said. “I basically sweep in front of them and defensively we work together as a unit. They’re always telling me where to be and where to go.”
Communications between the different lines and thirds of the field is one of the most crucial aspects of the game. For the back line, having Pflasterer in goal directing the defenders toward the movement of the ball or alerting them to potential threat is invaluable.
“We have always been a close-knit team and that’s the same for the back line and me,”Pflasterer said of the team’s on-field dynamic. “We communicate well and organization is a key factor. As the goalkeeper it stems from me, but it radiates through the back line and to the midfield.”
The players cannot overstress the need to have clear communication between everyone on the field. Pflasterer is able to see the entire field, so being able to communicate possible threats to the line in front of him and the players in front of that is very important for maintaining a strong defensive wall.
“We can have the momentum by communicating with other players, having the ball, keeping the ball and telling them what positions they need and if they are out of position,” Chodas said. “We hold down the fort and if we start losing the ball, it is up to us to get everyone back in the game.
The strength of the back line, as well as the rest of the team, stems from its close-knit nature. Being able to intuitively understand where to be and where other players are is an invaluable asset for any team.
“I think one of the biggest strengths of the back four as a defensive unit is how well we know each other’s tendencies on the field,” Rinow said.
Defending and attacking as an entire team, combined with the strength of the back four, the goalkeepers and the midfielders, has been a driving factor for the Red’s success so far this season.