Temple wasn’t supposed to be in this position.
Before the start of last season, the Owls were picked to finish last out of nine teams in the American Athletic Conference in a preseason poll. Temple exceeded those expectations, finishing 10-4-4 en route to a fourth-place conference finish.
In coach David MacWilliams’ eyes, defense was a large part of his team’s success last fall.
“We worked on that [defense] from day one,” MacWilliams said. “When we come into camp, the first thing we work on is our defense.”
The hard work paid off, as Temple finished tied for ninth in the country with South Florida in goals allowed per game (0.67). For this year, MacWilliams noted it will be important to have a complete team effort in front of senior goalkeeper Dan Scheck.
“It’s important that not just our backs defend,” MacWilliams said. “We stress that all our players need to defend.”
MacWilliams also indicated the importance of continued improvement from his starters if Temple is to exceed loftier expectations this time around. Sophomores Matt Mahoney and Robert Sagel are two returning members of the back line.
Mahoney said that past experience with Stefan Mueller, another sophomore defender, will be significant in establishing vital chemistry.
“I played with [Mueller] on the club level,” Mahoney said. “I feel like the connection is strong, we’re all on the same page, we play similar, so I think it just works when we play together.”
Mahoney and Sagel also contributed on the offensive side of the ball last year, combining for four goals and an assist. Sagel led the team in goal conversion last season, netting his three goals on eight shots (38 percent).
Sagel said that although defenders have fewer chances, those chances tend to be better than some shots that midfielders and strikers create.
“You have to capitalize on [those chances],” Sagel said. “I was fortunate last year, and am hoping to continue that good streak this fall.”
Although the defense’s primary job is to keep the ball out of its net, MacWilliams allows his back line to push forward if opportunities present themselves.
Combined with a recruiting class that MacWilliams said focused on adding attacking players, the team looks to improve on the offensive side this season.
“We definitely encourage our backs to get forward,” MacWilliams said. “We’ve got guys who get forward and we feel can have an impact on the game. That’s part of the strength of our team and our defense.”
In terms of other places for improvement, MacWilliams said bettering a defense that finished in the top ten in the nation last season will be tough. But he added that preventing early and late goals in each half can help pave the way for future success.
This idea, which is achieved in-part through a hard-working, organized backline, has MacWilliams’ squad seeking a better finish this fall.
“We’re looking to maintain more of the ball, implement a more attacking style, while maintaining our organization and our shape defensively,” Sagel said. “And we’re hoping we take that one more step, get over the hump, and get to the NCAA tournament.”
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