Defense leading Thomas boys team
The Thomas Worthington High School boys soccer team is relying on its defense and picking its spots on offense.
The strategy has proven successful, as the Cardinals had only one loss through seven games, 2-0 to St. Charles on Aug. 25.
"One loss through seven matches, I'll take that anytime, especially with the difficult schedule we've played so far," coach Josh Fenton said. "We tied Massillon Jackson (at 1 on Sept. 8) and they're usually one of the top teams in the state. We tied Upper Arlington (at 1 on Aug. 28) and we also tied Worthington Kilbourne (at 1 on Aug. 30) when we played two men down."
The Cardinals were 3-1-3 overall and 2-0-1 in the OCC-Central Division before playing Marysville on Sept. 18. Their wins came against New Albany (2-0 on Aug. 21) and league foes Westland (4-1 on Sept. 4) and Dublin Coffman (1-0 on Sept. 11).
"We've only allowed six goals (through seven games), but I still think we can get better defensively," Fenton said. "Our goal every game is a shutout. Our guys take a lot of pride in defense. They're buying into the system and we're developing as a team. We're obviously defensive-minded because we're just not going to score a lot of goals."
With senior defenders Ryan Dunick and Thomas Roberts playing in front of senior goalkeeper Jesse Greene, Fenton realized early this season that his team could excel on defense.
"I'm not saying we're not working hard on offense, but we play it close to the vest because defense is our strength," he said. "We've got nine seniors who know they've got maybe eight to 10 games left in their soccer careers and they're willing to play any style in which we can be successful. Their leadership has been outstanding."
Fenton said the Cardinals have remained aggressive on offense despite being defensive-minded.
In addition to Dunick and Roberts, Fenton credits junior defender Stephen Withers, senior midfielder Jamie Burpee and sophomore midfielder Christian Quinn with providing sparks.
"Burpee is a holding midfielder and captain who is helping us find the balance of when to be aggressive and when to be patient," Fenton said. "We want to adjust to what our opponents are doing. Quinn is a second-year starter as a sophomore and he's very composed on the ball. His knowledge of the game is phenomenal. I think Withers has been playing real well on the back line lately, too."
Fenton also has been impressed with the continued progression of midfielders Trace Castle and Austin Haimerl and forward Carter Wright.
With so many low-scoring defensive battles, the Cardinals must stay focused to avoid any sloppy play.
"With our style, we can play perfect for almost an entire game and make one boneheaded mistake and it could lead to the only goal of the game," Fenton said. "The good news is that playing with that focus all season long is good preparation for the (Division I district) tournament. We can't think about the next game. We've got to be ready for every possession and stay sharp."