By Jeff Sattora, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - There are two ways you can look at how to win a soccer game. First, score more than the other team, and second, don't let the other team score. The Penn State men's soccer team has done a lot of both this season, with a newfound shutdown attitude.
Coming off a strong offensive 2010 team with an admittedly lackluster defense,
the 2011 squad, with the loss of some key players, knew they would have to step
it up on the defensive end. They have
done just that.
While last year's Lions group had allowed in three goals by partway through their fourth game of the season and eight goals through seven games, this Lions squad has only allowed three total in their first seven games of the year, going 5-1-1.
"A shutout is going to get us a win," said freshman goaltender Andrew Wolverton after Penn State's most recent home win, against St. Francis.
That is a sentiment that has been repeated all year long by multiple players and coaches, "the other team can't win if they don't score on us."
That mantra has been true in every win so far, as the only game that Penn State has allowed a goal was a 3-2 loss to Stetson.
Penn State senior defender Matt Smallwood mentioned one of the reasons this team has really improved on the defensive end, experience.
"Our back line, we've got a lot of experience back there between three seniors, including myself," Smallwood said. "As a defense we just try to get a shut-out every game and give our offense as much of a chance to get a goal and get us the win."
Smallwood added that while this year's team has a few new players coming in, they have all done a great job of buying into the culture in Happy Valley, and what it takes to win.
For head coach Bob Warming those new players are nothing new as he has been used to different teams with different styles his whole career.
"I have never coached two teams the same in over 30 years," Warming said. "Every group of people are unique and they're in a different place in their game each year, even if you have the same guys back."
Coach Warming knows that the defensive shutouts and stops can really help the team as a whole as Big Ten play approaches.
"It's bred confidence," he said.
Warming has been happy with the defense all year long; he is quick to not count the offense out as well.
"I think we have really good goal scorers they just haven't exploded yet."
The team is going to need that offense, along with their newfound top defense as they battle No. 7-ranked Indiana Friday night on the road.
The Lions come into town with their eighth-ranked defense nationally in goals against average at .42 allowed per game. But on the other side of the field they are facing a Hoosiers team who is ranked 17th nationally in goals scored per game at 2.29.
"These are moments that you look forward to as a college player," said coach Warming on the game.
"We've been looking forward to this game from the beginning of the season," added Smallwood. "You always look forward to starting you Big Ten season and they are obviously very good this year."
Although the Lions know that Indiana has that strong offense, they are confident they can get the job done.
"We've played against formations like they have use before and we've coped pretty well against it,"
Smallwood said. "We're not any more worried than any other game about going in there and getting goals and keeping goals out."
With a newfound defensive success and an offense ready to strike the Lions are really starting to roll just in time for Big Ten play.