De­fense has come through for Az­tex in re­cent con­tests

Austin American-Statesman - - SPORTS - by Colby M. White

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.

ben­jamin Sk­lar

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