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Men's soccer: Season of defense

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With their eighth shutout of the season coming Saturday against Rutgers, the defensive ability of the Bearcats men's soccer team altered the expectations of their season. 

By Joseph Gryniewski

Special to GoBearcats.com

CINCINNATI -- A slew of early injuries, struggles scoring goals and defending the net, the Bearcats stumbled out of the gates. Starting the season with a 1-4-1 record through their first six matches put the Bearcats in an early hole. UC had scored only three goals, while allowing nine to the opposition through the first six games.

The season was in jeopardy.

That's when it happened.

The season's saving grace came in the form of a streak that no one expected, but one the Bearcats desperately needed.

After the slow start, the Bearcats next 671 minutes and 22 seconds on the field covering six games were spent putting on a defensive clinic and effectively shutting out every team in their path. The Bearcats allowed no goals to the likes of Towson, Gardner-Webb, Pittsburgh, Cleveland State, Syracuse and USF.

With games only lasting a mere 90 minutes, the fact that they spent nearly 700 minutes playing shutout soccer is jaw dropping. The shutout streak was a key component to a major turnaround. While UC's defense was busy posting zeros on their opponents, the offense was busy making sure their effort wasn't in vain.

Through the first six matches UC's offense had only been able to muster three goals, but during the next six games they backed up the tremendous defensive effort, providing four goals for the cause. The team rolled off a beautiful 4-0-2 mark during the record-breaking streak, and the saves at the net helped spark the run that saved the season.

"At the fourth game we were just going, then someone told us at the fifth game and we definitely started pushing for it," center Michael Millay said.

While UC hadn't been aware of the streak until the last few games, the Bearcats knew that if they were going to have any success going forward something would have to change.

However, the Bearcats don't feel as though the streak was due to a change in physical play, so much as it was a mental adjustment.

"It was a lot about positioning and communication," said goalkeeper Taylor Hafling, "We were covering each other more and talking a lot more than we were in the beginning of the year, and that helped a lot."

"We were tired of giving up goals," Millay said. "It's not something we changed up, we were just able to work together to keep the ball out of the net as a unit."

The Bearcats (6-7-4, 3-3-2) added an eighth shutout of the season Saturday in a home win against Rutgers which gives them a third-place ranking in the Big East Red Division. The school record for shutouts in a season is 11, set in 1989.

The team closes out the regular season at home Saturday night against Louisville at 7 p.m. One more shutout would be a fitting conclusion.

"The feeling is 'Let's go get another one,'" Hafling said. "It gave us something to build on, but it's just about doing the little things and the results will come."

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