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Overlooked defense has helped key UMBC's run in men's soccer

Boasting the second-most prolific offense in Division I men’s soccer, UMBC’s ability to score goals will always grab opponents’ attention. But the team’s ability to prevent goals should also be noted.

In six of the Retrievers’ seven games this season, the defense has allowed just one goal in each contest. Navy is the only opponent that has scored more than one goal in a game that UMBC (7-0-0) won, 3-2, in double overtime a week ago.

Coach Pete Caringi Jr. said the team is fortunate to be able to lean on a veteran-laden starting five of senior goalkeeper Phil Saunders, junior backs Oumar Ballo, Jordan Becker, Marquez Fernandez and Spencer Williams.

“It’s an experienced group,” Caringi said. “Phil Saunders is a fifth-year senior. He’s played with these guys before and has gotten to the second round of the NCAA tournament. He shut out North Carolina [before the Tar Heels won on penalty kicks]. Oumar Ballo has been, I think, one of the best backs in the country. Marquez Fernandez transferred in from Maryland, and he fits in like a glove. So I think that group is pretty cohesive. That back four along with Phil, it’s not like they're starting over. It’s basically a continuation from last spring and fall. So that's pretty good.” 

UMBC’s defense is not ranked in the top 30 in any national category, but Caringi said it’s a unit that does not seek applause or accolades.

“At the end of the day, as much as I love to preach offense, we know that we’re not going to do anything into October and November if we don’t play good team defense and they don’t play their best because it’s nice to score all those goals, but you can’t give up too many,” he said. “When the weather turns, you’re going to have a struggle. They don’t feel underappreciated by me, that’s for sure.”  

Still, it’s difficult not to acknowledge the offense when the Retrievers -- who are No. 9 in the latest Top Drawer Soccer rankings and No. 21 in the most recent College Soccer News poll -- boast the country’s top goal scorer in senior forward Pete Caringi Jr. (nine goals, tied with Delaware freshman midfielder Guillermo Delgado) and second-best playmaker in junior midfielder Geaton Caitabiano (seven assists, one behind Evansville sophomore forward Faik Hajderovic).

That both Caringi and Caitabiano hail from the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association (Caringi played for Calvert Hall and Caitabiano played for Mount St. Joseph) is not lost on the UMBC coach.

“It just says a lot for local soccer,” Caringi Jr. said. “I don’t want to sound cocky. I’m proud for those guys, but I’m not surprised. A lot of our guys have had success, and we know about it around here, but I think it’s becoming more well known nationally. So I’m happy for those guys. I think the main thing that I do is I talk about the team. Individual stats are nice, but there’s a certain part of you that looks at that and goes, ‘Wow, that’s pretty neat.’”

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