Prep boys soccer: Murray gets defensive
Defense is where the Murray boys soccer team gets it done.
The Spartans recorded six shutouts and held their first four region opponents scoreless through their first 10 games of the season. While keeper Tanner Critchfield earns the most accolades, those in front of him deserve some credit, too.
"It's a bunch of kids with good attitudes who do what it takes for the team to succeed," Murray coach Bryan DeMann said. "The key to all this work is having confidence in each other. There are 11 guys at a time, all playing a role. There's not one thing that does it. It takes everyone to get the shutout."
The Spartans allowed just six goals in 10 games entering this week. Only Ogden has allowed fewer goals (five) than Murray among teams in classes 2A through 5A. Weber, Hunter and Brighton (5A), Roy (4A) and St. Joseph and Oakley (2A) also have allowed six goals thus far entering the week.
What sets Murray apart is how many interchangeable parts its defense has gone through. According to DeMann, 10 players have started or played at least a half on defense. Injuries and band excursions have caused the Spartans to try different combinations among its back four.
Amazingly, the defense hasn't missed a beat.
"They have enough soccer experience and background to understand the game," DeMann said. "They're used to moving around a lot. Some that have played other sports understand where their teammate is supposed to be."
Tyler Clark, Eli Dahir, Walker Erekson, Jense Gray, Jeff Hunter, Nate Leithead, Alex Moyes, Jaden Olsen, Danny Ortiz and Landon Smith all have contributed on defense at various times. Meanwhile, Critchfield, whose brother Spencer starred in goal for Murray last season, is the glue that holds it all together.
"He's obviously stepped up and pushed himself to be better," DeMann said about Critchfield, a sophomore. "He's a little quicker with his feet than Spencer."
While there have been some games where Critchfield has needed to make clutch saves, there have been others where he barely has touched the ball.
"It has made my job a lot easier to have a great defense in front of me," Critchfield said. "It's easier to do what I have to do. I don't always have to talk to my defenders to get them in position. It's very helpful to have the depth that we have. We're taught to not only play one position, but more."
Being able to stop an opponent's attack isn't the only motive for a defense. Teams also have to gain possession of the ball and return it upfield as quickly as possible. Knowing that, it's relatively easy to see why the majority of the game is not being played in Murray's defensive third.
Along with the six shutouts, Murray has allowed only one goal twice a double-overtime tie against Taylorsville and a 1-0 loss to Bingham.
"We look for guys to not just stop the other team, but win possession of the ball," DeMann said. "You need to be aggressive and position yourself well to take away opportunities. You also need immediate pressure on opponents when you lose the ball and be responsible to get it back to midfield."
As for the remainder of the season, the Spartans are seeking more shutouts.
"There will be more to come," Critchfield said. "We're determined to not only win, but keep other teams out of our net."