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Top-ranked West Allegheny puts scoring to the forefront with help from all-state defender

| Monday, Sept. 16, 2013, 11:45 p.m.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
West Allegheny senior defender Zach Graziani moves the ball away from Shady Side Academy's Evan Brazinski during a game at Ambridge High School.
Eric Schmadel | Tribune-Review
Greensburg Salem's David Milburn brings the ball upfield against East Allegheny's Tyson Nguyen during their September 10, 2013 game in Greensburg.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
West Allegheny's Cooper Amos (9) carries the ball past Shady Side Academy's Berk Alper to set up a goal during a game at Ambridge High School.

Zach Graziani may play defense for the West Allegheny boys soccer team, but that doesn't diminish his role in the Indians' offense.

Part of the last line of defense in West Allegheny's unique 3-4-3 alignment — as opposed to a 4-4-2, with four defenders and two forwards — having Graziani enables the Indians to emphasize offense.

“He's that foundation you play off of,” West Allegheny coach Kevin Amos said of Graziani, a returning all-state player and Division I recruit. “We play a unique formation with him in the back, and he can really shut down the forwards that they have up top.

“That frees up an extra player to play in the midfield or up top.”

Good thing, too.

Top-ranked West Allegheny has jumped out to a 7-0 start, including a 3-0 mark in Section 5-AA, by relying on an offensive philosophy that Amos described as “guns blazing.”

It's one that helped the Indians score 69 goals in 18 matches last year. Already West Allegheny has 24 goals this fall.

“There's the idea that defense wins championships, and I get that,” Amos said. “But if you get a couple breaks and score a key goal, you make it really tough on a team that's defensive-minded to try and come out of that mindset and play offense.”

One of Graziani's primary responsibilities is organizing his team's defense. His smarts and athleticism are so special that only a handful of teams use the 3-4-3.

“For me, it comes down to making sure everything around me is kind of in control,” Graziani said.

Amos hopes Graziani and a turbo-charged offense are enough to push the Indians past the WPIAL quarterfinals, where their season has ended the past two years.

“Our coaches are always reminding us about the WPIAL quarterfinals,” junior forward Collin Wurst said. “It gives us motivation to get past that.”

West Allegheny, which has allowed two goals so far, returns eight starters from last year's 15-win team that shared the Section 5-AA title with Quaker Valley.

Wurst, a 20-goal scorer in 2012, leads the group with nine goals and three assists. Classmate Mike Cummings has seven goals and eight assists, and Cooper Amos has seven assists. Pat Harmon, Kyle McCracken and Nick Jaroszynski have three goals apiece.

But as strong as West Allegheny's offense has been, it's tough to focus on the Indians' without starting with Graziani, whose list of college suitors includes Duquesne, Robert Morris, Marshall, West Virginia, Radford and Lafayette.

Graziani is flanked by fellow seniors Josh Kolarac and Levi Bergset, an exchange student from Norway. Spencer Wolfe is a three-year starter at goalkeeper and has 22 saves, five shutouts and one goal allowed.

“We're lucky to have three seniors defenders and a senior goalkeeper,” Graziani said.

Lucky to have the luxury of focusing on scoring because West Allegheny knows Graziani will hold things down in the back.

“It's definitely a compliment, not just toward me but for the other defenders and midfielders,” Graziani said. “I appreciate (Amos') trust, but it's also a lot of responsibility. We know we can play more on offense if we do our jobs.”

Jason Mackey is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at jmackey@tribweb.com or via Twitter @Mackey_Trib.

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