April 25, 2019 | 60° F

Rutgers stout defense a result of team chemistry

Photo by Shirley Yu and Patrick D Morgan |

Junior center back Erin Smith has been a fundamental part of a Rutgers back four that has yet to concede a goal six games into the 2015 season.

To play for head coach Mike O’Neill and the Rutgers women’s soccer team, an athlete must be able to do more than what her position description normally entails.

Forwards must be able to strike and create scoring chances, but also run back to help their teammates defend when the opposition presses ahead.

Midfielders have to be cognizant of where the ball is at all times, as they also help create scoring opportunities while trying to intercept the ball from the other team.

Perhaps most important aspect of the No. 22 Scarlet Knights’ (6-0) style of play has been the ability of the back line to continually deny the opposition’s chances to score.

The Knights have logged 540 consecutive minutes of shutout soccer to begin the 2015 season, a school record that each unit on the field has directly contributed to.

“Seeing how well the back line is playing, and how much they fight, just makes me want to keep the ball out of the back of the net even more,” said sophomore goalie Casey Murphy, who recorded three saves in a 3-0 victory Sunday over Drexel. “I have to give them so much credit for staying strong these first six games and not allowing any goals.”

Like Murphy explained, Rutgers takes pride in building its team from the back line to the front line.

They all work together to create scoring chances while maintaining ball possession and keeping the Knights in firm control of all their matches.

When the versatile Murphy is in net, she is flanked by players like All-American senior center back Brianne Reed and junior back Erin Smith, who scored her first career goal in the opening minute against Drexel.

Smith knows the importance of her line’s role on the outcome of matches and has seen the other units follow suit by also placing a major emphasis on defending.

“We focus a lot on not letting goals in and just trying to keep the ball in our control,” Smith said. “It’s important that the forwards work hard to defend by not allowing any crosses in and then the midfielders stay compact and ready. The defense is always there to back them up. … We just have a really diverse team and we all contribute in defending.”

What has made the scoreless streak especially impressive is that the Knights have not lost their offensive aggressiveness or began to play conservatively as a result of their success.

They have spent the majority of their matches on the opponent’s half of the field, stringing passes together and consistently outshooting other teams.

For them to dominate matches like this speaks to the overall depth and chemistry of the roster, O’Neill said.

“The depth we have is very important,” he said. “We talk everyday about coming into practice and working hard to be our best and everybody feels that they are a part of it. We talk about being '30 Strong,' and it is true because everyone in this program can play and do many things on the field.”

As the Knights look to continue their strong play and the scoreless streak, they also intend to keep having fun together during training and games.

They credit their team bonding for a lot of their success and said they can sense where everyone should be on the field by how well they know each other.

“This year we are probably the closest group since I have been here,” Smith said. “All these girls are my best friends and I know I can go to them whenever I need to and it shows on the field by how well we work together. … It’s been a really good start to the season for us.”

For updates on the Rutgers women’s soccer team, follow @TargumSports on Twitter.

Mike O'Sullivan

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