It may not be complete perfection for the Montclair State University men’s soccer team, but for the last 12 games, it sure has looked like it. The last time the Red Hawks didn’t record a victory was Sept. 15 — a 0-0 tie against Moravian University.
One of the main sparks behind this 12-game winning streak is freshman midfielder Amer Lukovic, who has been a first-year sensation with 16 goals on the season, almost averaging one goal per game. And, it’s not only Lukovic who’s scoring goals. The Red Hawks, as a team, are averaging nearly three goals per game during the hot streak.
However, the classic saying still stands true: offense wins games, but defense wins championships. As cliché as it sounds, this has been the message the Red Hawks have been sending out to all of their opponents, both in the conference and out of it. Shane Keenan, a senior goalkeeper, knows it isn’t an individual effort.
“Communication is a big factor in connecting the backline, [in terms of] making sure everyone is in the right place, looking over your shoulder and just staying positive as well,” Keenan said.
Freshman defender Ian Chesney emphasizes how important it is to keep it moving on the field.
“When we make a mistake, we try not to make another one,” Chesney said. “And if other guys make a mistake, we try to help them and make the next play.”
Sure, a case can be made that the offense has helped the Red Hawks get to their current 16-1-1 record, with players such as junior forwards Josiah Crawford and Janbi Kaghado scoring five and seven goals this season respectively. However, it also helps just as much to recognize that in 18 games, Montclair State has allowed only six goals.
That’s over 1,500 minutes for whoever’s counting. Keenan makes this clear as he points out that a team isn’t guaranteed success without both sides.
“Defense does win games, but you also have to score,” Keenan said. “If you can’t produce up top, how are you going to win games?”
Chesney appreciates the support of the offense and their high production this season because, on defense, it makes their job easier.
“How good the offense has been has only helped us defensively,” Chesney said. “We have been so dangerous that teams have been sitting back more, which puts less pressure on us.”
Overall, the team’s offensive and defensive game plans complement each other. Because the Red Hawks put the ball in the net so often, it gives the defense more ease to prevent the ball from going anywhere near Keenan.
Speaking of which, Keenan has been a beast at the net and has been a major catalyst as to why Montclair State keeps its leads in the game, with 19 saves, averaging over two saves a game in nine of them. And, with a 0.950 save percentage and an 8-0 record, a lot goes into prepping for games and keeping a consistent performance going.
Keenan says otherwise, he relies on his teammates to get the job done.
“It’s been all on the team,” Keenan said. “The backline has helped me out so far this season. I do not really read too much into [the drive for goalkeeping].”
Just like basketball with 2-3 and 1-2-2 zones, along with the many formations of hockey, soccer follows the same pattern. The Red Hawks have been able to thrive on defense utilizing a very popular soccer formation.
“The 4-3-3 zone is the most effective this season,” Keenan said. “We’ve really gelled as a team [and] stayed together. The chemistry is also high when we play this formation. That, [along with] speed, tactics and communication — a lot goes into playing defense.”
Head coach Todd Tumelty is appreciative of the success so far this season. But, practicing during the end of the regular season and looking towards the playoffs, his philosophy is not that complicated.
“I’ve told my players to keep their game simple,” Tumelty said. “Obviously, everyone likes to see when people get mugged — the flashiness upfront or the bicycle kick — but it’s about things like using the inside of your foot and playing a good long ball into feet.”
The Red Hawks recently picked up two crucial victories on their way to the postseason: a 2-1 road victory over Rowan University on Saturday that gave them the NJAC regular-season title, and a 7-0 victory against the City College Of New York on Monday, which was the program’s annual senior night game.