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Stellar defense is key to success for surging Sun Devils soccer team

ASU soccer has one of the top defenses in the Pac-12 this season, a reason that they have a .722 winning percentage in conference play


ASU junior defender Lauren Kirberg (27) and graduate student defender Lieske Carleer (4) during a game against Washington State at Sun Devil Soccer Stadium on Sunday, Oct. 8, 2023 in Tempe. ASU won 5-1.

 As the soccer season heads towards the final stretch, the Sun Devils have remained one of the top defenses in the Pac-12. Newly-ranked No. 24 Arizona State has allowed only 0.53 goals per game, trailing only Stanford for the best in the conference through 15 games. 

This defensive play has been key to the team's 9-2-4 record. Head coach Graham Winkworth credits the team's attention to detail in critical areas on the pitch for the defensive success thus far. 

"Not only (can they) limit the goals, but limit the shots and limit the shots from dangerous areas," said Winkworth. "A team might outshoot us 20 to 10, but if they're shooting from 40 yards out, they are very low percentage chances. We want to try and limit our opposition to taking bad shots."

This success comes from many different aspects including training, gameplan, and communication. But, two defensive players, Lucy Johnson and Lauren Kirberg said experience from returning players is crucial to the Sun Devils' success defending in the box. Johnson said the impact of having players with experience is calming and boosts their confidence, especially after turnovers.

"It is so important," Johnson said. "I think it definitely calms the tempo of the game. But we feel confident in our defense so we can play more freely when we do have the ball."

Not only does good defense help win games but it can also be a morale boost if they are able to have a clean sheet. Shutting out their opponent is a focal point for the team this year, as it allows the team to still win games even if they have fewer offensive chances than the other team does. 

Winkworth credits the defense's consistency as a large part in the team’s overall success this season.

"If you've got a defense that can keep you in a match and concede zero or one goals every game, then, you know, you've got a chance of winning the match." Winkworth said. "You might not need 10 chances to win the game. You might only need two and that keeps us in matches, and that's certainly been the case so far this season."

The defensive players on the team hope that their team chemistry and growth as a team will help them win the the tough games down the stretch of the season. ASU's last two home games of the year will be tough tests with two top-15 ranked teams β€” No. 11 USC and No. 2 UCLA β€” coming to Tempe to face the freshly ranked Sun Devils.

"We have some pretty tough games coming up," Kirberg said. "You know, big, big school names, but I think if we take exactly what we've been doing to the next game, it will help us for sure."

 Edited by Alfred Smith III, Shane Brennan and Grace Copperthite.

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