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High school boys soccer: Elite defense keying hot starts for 6A and 5A title contenders

SALT LAKE CITY — One goal in six games.

Even considering the high expectations at Viewmont High School, particularly when it comes to defense, that level of play on a boys soccer team is almost unheard of.

“To only give up one goal in six games, I wouldn’t say I expected that,” Viewmont head coach Spencer Keddington said.

The same holds true for Brighton Bengals head coach Brett Rosen, whose side has given up just a single score through five games this season.

“We take a lot of pride in our defense as a team, from our forwards back to our keeper, but I don’t know if I expected one goal in five games.” said Rosen.

Then there is Davis’ Souli Phongsavath, whose team has allowed only three goals through seven games, a 6A classification best.

“It has been somewhat of a surprise, a pleasant surprise,” Phongsavath said.

Those coaches and their teams are not alone.

Through the opening weeks of the 2018-19 season, stifling and goal-preventing defense has been a regular occurrence.

In Region 1 there is Davis, Weber (three goals allowed) and Layton (6). In Region 3, Copper Hills (3).

Bingham leads the way in Region 4, having allowed only three goals, with the defending champion Pleasant Grove Vikings (5) not too far behind.

In 5A there is Viewmont (1) and Brighton (1), not to mention Skyline (2), Olympus (5), Alta (5), Skyridge (5) and Maple Mountain (5).

Of the top-ranked teams in the 6A and 5A ranks, only one has allowed more than six goals this season.

The trend continues into the lower classifications, with teams like Dixie (3) in 4A, Judge Memorial (6) in 3A and Layton Christian (2) and Waterford (3) in 2A.

Why have defenses been so stout to start the year? For one thing, defense is easier to pick up.

“I think that is definitely the case.” Phongsavath said. “It doesn’t take too much talent to play defense. It takes a work ethic and a want to make that happen.”

“It is kind of true that (defense) can come first,” added Keddington. “It is easier to teach and you don’t have to have quite as much chemistry.”

Of course, there is also the fact that the goal on defense — keep the ball out of the net — is easier to achieve.

“On defense you win by making the other team not score. As long as you don’t allow them to put it in the net you are winning,” said Rosen. “On offense, you have to put the ball in the net. It might look like defenses are doing better, but that is just because they don’t have to put the ball in. They just have to stop the attack.”

None of which is to say that defenses across the state aren’t deserving of praise.

In fact, on a team level, the top defenses in the state have more than earned recognition.

Take Bingham.

The Miners graduated both of their starting center backs, a fact that was a cause for concern for head coach Leo Gonzalez.

And yet, they are tied for first in 6A in goals allowed.

“We’ve had a couple of seniors step up,” Gonzalez said. “They took over those spots and have been extremely consistent. It has also been teamwork, which has allowed the center backs to grow in a hurry. We wanted to make sure everyone on our team played solid defense, to support those center backs, and they have.”

In the case of Davis, the defensive success came after Phongsavath moved the team’s top returning defenders forward, in an attempt to improve the Darts’ attack.

“We put in some kids who didn’t necessarily have a lot of experience at the varsity level, playing on the back line,” he said.

Despite their inexperience, the Darts have thrived.

Speaking of inexperience, Brighton lost 13 seniors from last year’s team and yet the Bengals boast arguably the best defense in the state.

“We have a lot of really good players,” Rosen said. “It is just the way they have meshed together. They play together as a team.”

Then there is Viewmont.

Always known for their defense, the Vikings have taken it to another level, thanks in part to a wealth of returners.

“We returned eight of our starting 11. That has been a big plus,” Keddington said. “We haven’t had to teach new things defensively. It has carried over. I wouldn’t say I expected this, but we do have high expectations. Every game we want to get a shutout and that is a team effort thing.”

Ultimately the coaches agreed that is what stout defensive play comes down to — effort.

If the opening weeks are any indication, defensive effort is not lacking.