Defense has come through for Aztex in recent contests
Adrian Heath’s playing days as a forward are behind him, but he still understands that scoring goals is what draws the most attention in soccer.
But even as Heath’s team has risen to the top of its league behind a high-scoring offense, the Austin Aztex head coach has made sure his defenders aren’t overlooked by their coaches.
“We’ve got some of the highest goal scorers in the division, but without that (defensive) platform behind you, it becomes a pressurized position,” Heath said. “We’ve made sure (the defenders have) had as much praise internally as the forwards (have) externally.”
Austin’s defense has been solid this season despite putting up average numbers. The Aztex enter tonight’s home game against St. Louis allowing 1.06 goals per game, ranking fifth among the 12 teams in USSF, Division 2. In effect, their defense has been just stingy enough to let the club’s explosive offense run away with wins. The first-place Aztex have scored a league-best 28 goals, nine more than the next-closest team.
“We feel that if we do our job in the back, we’re good enough to score goals,” said Aztex defender and team captain Kevin Sakuda. “Our ultimate focus is to fit in as a group of 11.”
In some games this season, early goals by the Aztex have made opponents change their tactics in hopes of scoring an equalizer, namely playing long balls forward that Austin’s back line has handled. And Austin’s scoring threats have forced ball possession into its favor, relieving pressure on the defense.
“When you have a good offense, it makes our job a lot easier,” Aztex left back Leonard Griffin said. “We’re keeping the ball on that side of the field.”
In recent games, though, the Aztex have had to rely more on the team’s defense.
After averaging two goals a game in its first 10 matches this season, Austin hit that mark just twice in its past six games and was blanked three times during that stretch. In the four recent games in which the Aztex failed to score two goals, Austin pulled out three draws and suffered one Left back Leonard Griffin says Austin’s good offense ‘makes our job a lot easier.’ loss. Without the three draws, Austin’s three-point lead in the league standings would be gone.
“In the last game (a scoreless draw at Rochester on July 9), we didn’t finish the chances we should’ve, but we kept a clean sheet in the back and got a point out of it,” Sakuda said. “If you’re not giving up goals, you put yourself in position to win games.”
With his defenders giving him time to re-start the club’s offense, Heath wants to make sure they get their pats on the back.
“I was a forward. I know what the score is,” Heath joked.