Defenders help guide Springdale boys into PIAA quarterfinal round
Brogan McCutcheon saw the spotlight put on offensive players in his former life as a striker. His new position draws attention in a different way.
“Up at top when you break down, you don't score, which is obviously crucial,” said McCutcheon, a senior defender on Springdale's boys soccer team. “But then when you're in the back, if you mess up, then you have one in the back of the net. I wouldn't say it's more important, but it's just crucial. And then when you fail, it's definitely more obvious.
“So it's kind of scary.”
If they feel any fear, Springdale's defenders aren't showing it.
The Dynamos, who play District 9 champion Brockway in the PIAA Class A quarterfinals at 2 p.m. Saturday at Slippery Rock High School, have clamped down on opposing offenses throughout the season.
A 2-0 victory over Windber in the PIAA first round was Springdale's 12th of the season: The Dynamos (16-5-1) have allowed 18 goals in 22 games. They held WPIAL champion Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic to two of its lower-scoring outputs of the season and have yielded just 11 goals in their past 20 games.
“There's a lot of high-pressure situations that I think the four of us in the back are decently good at handling those,” McCutcheon said. “You like to be in those high-pressure situations. That's why you play sports ... It's different than what I'm used to playing. But it's a lot of fun. Just to be on the field with all these guys is great.”
Springdale's defense — seniors McCutcheon, Mario Liberati and Logan Panza and sophomore Matt Taliani — works in concert with senior goalkeeper Mike Zolnierczyk to thwart opposing offenses.
It's an eclectic group. Panza plays physically on the top of the defense and has a strong leg to clear the ball. The smaller, speedier Taliani moved from outside fullback to sweeper and uses his speed well as the last line of defense. Liberati and McCutcheon lock down the outsides and play a big role in counterattacks.
“We each have a different role,” Liberati said. “We know what our strengths and weaknesses are. I think we know who to get the ball to when we have it. We all do our homework. I think we all talk about who we're playing and who their top guys are, who our top guys are and how we can pick apart their team as well from the back.
“The best offense is defense, so we really try to get the ball forward, keep the ball out of our end and help (Zolnierczyk) out as much as we can.”
Springdale preaches teamwork from the front to the back, so midfielders play a significant role in the defense, as well.
On defense, teamwork aspect means Taliani sometimes has to cover for teammates when an error allows an opposing player or the ball to get deep. McCutcheon praised Taliani's ability to “save our butts.”
“If one player makes a mistake, it's not that player — it's the whole team,” Springdale coach Cesareo Sanchez said. “If (Zolnierczyk) lets a goal in, it's not Mike's fault; it's defenders, midfielders and forwards. The best defense is always a good offense. If you keep the ball on offense, you're not worried about goals.”
Because of the new positions — McCutcheon shifting back from an offensive role and Taliani swapping defensive positions — Springdale's defenders had to develop effective communication not only with each other but with the other seven teammates on the field at a time.
“We've all got to be on the same page, especially on corner kicks,” Taliani said. “We've got to know who's covering who, make sure we head the ball out and advance up the field. We're constantly talking as a team, who's got who, where everyone is at all times.”
The Dynamos held Windber to four shots on goal and snuffed out six corner kicks in the first round, and they'll have another challenge Saturday against unbeaten Brockway, a 3-2 victor over Seton LaSalle in the first round.
“We're not going to look at it differently than any other game,” Liberati said. “We just take it one game at a time and say, ‘Look, we've just got to do it.' ”