Throw-ins add another threat to RU attack
Often times in the game of soccer, if a defender is trapped deep in his own end, he kicks the ball out of bounds down the sideline, rather than kicking it out of bounds over the goal line. The thought process behind this is that it is better to concede a throw-in to the other team than a corner kick.
For those who face the Rutgers men's soccer team, however, the threat is not neutralized. This is because the Scarlet Knights can turn to Bryant Knibbs, a junior defender who can throw the ball almost the width of the entire soccer field.
"It's really all about technique," said the Pine Bush, N.Y., native. "I always have people on the team coming up and asking me how I do it because I'm certainly not the strongest guy on the team. I just say that it really all just comes down to the technique."
Essentially, giving up a corner or a throw-in against the Knights yields the same results. The ball finds a way into the box either way.
For first-year head coach Dan Donigan, it is a great weapon to have.
"A long throw is a huge weapon that a lot of teams have, but at the same time we are going to utilize what we have," he said. "It's basically the same as having a service as long as the throw is accurate and our spacing is good."
It was thanks to Knibbs' talent that Rutgers escaped a couple of games last season with victories. As a sophomore in 2009, Knibbs recorded an assist on Sept. 18, in a double-overtime win against Providence.
It was in the second overtime that Knibbs delivered one of his patented throw-ins that found the head of then-junior Yannick Salmon, who directed the ball toward the back of the net.
"Last year I had three assists off of throw-ins, so it is definitely a weapon," Knibbs said. "It's just like getting a cross into the box, so whatever I can do to help the offense."
His ability to throw a soccer ball far beyond the boundaries of reality is not the only reason Knibbs finds himself in Donigan's good graces. The coach also likes the versatility and physicality the junior brings to his central defending role.
"I think he's great as a central defender. He reads the game well and is a physical guy back there," Donigan said. "He's one of our key guys because of his versatility."
Now starting on the back line, Knibbs found work last year as a midfielder — a role that both coach and player would like to work back to.
"I'd love to get him out into the midfield at some point, but I won't do that until somebody steps up who could be a suitable replacement," Donigan said.
While Knibbs also wants to get back to a more offensive role, he likes the communication and chemistry he shares with his other three defenders.
"I loved playing midfield, but I'm really comfortable in the middle on defense," he said. "All four of us are older guys and we have a great chemistry, we really work well together."
The other three defenders — senior captain Paulie Calafiore, senior Chris Edwards and junior captain Andrew Cuevas — also bring an arsenal of offensive talent to the game.
Being one of only a few left-footed players on the squad, Calafiore takes a majority of the corner kicks. Edwards has the speed and agility to swing out and push the tempo, and Cuevas is known for his precision headers.
It is the potency of this defense that keeps opposing teams unaware, not knowing from where an attack might come.
"With coach coming in and his new style of play, he wants the defenders to get up in the offense as much as possible," Calafiore said. "If there is any way we can contribute to the offense, then he is all for it.
"We just want to be there to add another threat. If the other team is worrying about us, then they aren't worrying about the offense and that's when the offense kills them. And if they are worrying too much about the offense and they don't worry about us, then that is when we kill them. It's good to have that dual threat because then, for other teams, it's like fighting a double-front war."
So far, whether it is one of Calafiore's corners or one of Knibbs' long-range bombs, Donigan loves the fact that he can send all of his midfielders and forwards into the box to capitalize.
"We can afford to have our guys crash the box," he said. "That's because whether we have a Paulie corner or Knibbsie throwing it in, the ball will get there."