When Davie Carmichael took over the Southern Oregon University men’s soccer program, he knew that he would be able to build a team from the back, with arguably the Cascade Conference’s best defense already on the roster he just inherited.
Through the Raiders’ first nine games this season, he hasn’t been swayed otherwise.
“We’ve always said to the guys that we have a foundation here, but we have make sure that we’re remaining consistent with that and staying focused in every moment of every game,” Carmichael said. “It’s certainly given us a platform to build our offense off of, and a good defense translates into a good offense.”
SOU dropped its first two games of Carmichael’s tenure as head coach and has since caught fire.
The Raiders (7-2 overall, 4-0 CCC) have won seven straight games — the longest current streak in the conference — entering Friday afternoon’s game against Northwest Christian at Raider Stadium.
Twenty-four hours later, SOU plays host to No. 20-nationally ranked Corban, the team the Raiders are currently tied for first atop the CCC standings with perfect conference records.
The last time the Raiders played at home, they upset the No. 9-ranked team in the country, Rocky Mountain (Mont.).
This time around, another big weekend at Raider Stadium will see them have first place all to themselves.
“We have energy here, we have energy talking about the game days before the game even happens,” said SOU freshman forward Noah Addie, who became the third Raider to record a hat trick this season and set a single-game school record with seven total points in Sunday’s 10-1 blowout win over Walla Walla (Wash.). “We’re ready. All of us are mentally prepared and physically prepared (for this weekend). We’re going to give everything we have, and we know if we don’t win these games then this season’s a failure. We don’t want to put in all this work without the end result that we want.”
Defense has been the name of the game for the Raiders ever since their season-opening losses to Menlo College (Calif.) — which is now ranked 24th nationally — and The Master’s (Calif.).
The first six games of SOU’s winning streak were all shutouts, with goalkeeper Wyatt Zabinski recording the 15th clean sheet of his career in last Friday’s 2-0 win over Eastern Oregon. SOU did see its 576-minute shutout streak that dated back to the overtime loss to The Master's come to an end on Sunday, but the Raiders are still easily one of the best defensive units going in the CCC right now.
Zabinski, the reigning CCC Defensive Player of the Year, is both third in the conference in goals against average (0.69) and save percentage (83.8). But the biggest thing for the Raiders’ defense is that their all-conference goalkeeper hasn’t been forced into many saves at all, ranking 10th in the CCC in saves per game (3.44).
“We work him hard in practice, so he shouldn’t have to work hard in games,” SOU junior defender Michael Miller said of Zabinski. “In the games, we don’t want to give any hope to the other team. We just want to get it over with and we want to keep the ball the whole game with no shots against us. If we do have shots against us, we trust Wyatt 100 percent that he’s going to come big. Usually there’s one or two shots that we have to face that are dangerous, but we always know we’re in good hands with Wyatt.”
Carmichael says “there was never a moment of doubt from anyone” after the Raiders started 0-2. And with every win they’ve gotten since then, their confidence has only grown.
The Raiders’ success can be boiled down to executing as a collective unit getting the job done rather than one or two players propelling them to new heights.
Thirteen different players have scored goals this season, with four players scoring at least four goals. And only four players — Miller, Zabinski, midfielder Paul Matyas and defender Kelly Gieber — have started all nine of SOU’s games so far this season, with Carmichael clearly establishing that it’s an open competition for playing time.
“It’s impressive to me that we have such a talented squad with really no drop off,” Carmichael said. “It really translates to competing every day at practice and who’s going to earn that right to play that week.”
Having a sound defense and a quality attacking unit was the vision of Carmichael as the Raiders looked to win a second straight Cascade Conference title.
They have taken the foundation that was set by former head coach Biniam Afenegus and built on it.
The goal was to once again be the best the CCC has to offer, and through their first nine games, they’re starting to show they have the capability to do so.
“I feel like we know that we’re the top team in the conference. We’re not necessarily recognized for it enough, but we all know we’re capable of beating anybody,” Addie said. “When Rocky came here, we weren’t scared, we weren’t going to play their game. We were going to make them play our style, so we just dictate what the other team’s going to do. We’re not going to sit back and be defensive.”
Contact Danny Penza at 541-776-4483 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @penzatopaper.