Scoring goals was not much of a problem for the Baltimore Bays in their first outdoor season last spring. Keeping opponents from scoring was.
With that in mind, coach Kevin Healey looked to solidify the team's defense when the indoor season rolled around. Enter defender Steve Nichols.
Nichols, who played with the Baltimore Spirit of the National Professional Soccer League last year, has been the perfect complement to veteran defender Mark Mettrick on the Bays' top line.
His defensive theory is simple: "If the other teams don't score on you, they can't beat you. The worst you can come out of it is a 0-0 tie."
With their 10-0 record going into tonight's game against the Greensboro Dynamo at Du Burns Arena, the Bays are having little trouble offensively. They're averaging more than 15 goals a game, but it's the skimpy 36 goals they've allowed that has the coach smiling. Healey said the two go hand-in-hand.
"The one obvious thing is, if you're not giving up goals, there's less pressure on your offense to score them," he said.
"Also, we create a lot of goals with our defensive effort. With everyone marking well, we strip the ball a lot and score on counters. Good defense not only stops your opponent from scoring, but creates offense for yourself."
Nichols, who turns 25 next week, is the classic stay-at-home defender. His reliable play has enabled the more offensive-minded Mettrick to press up on attack.
"I knew going in we had some problems giving up too many goals in the outdoor season," Nichols said.
"I just look to hang back, stay disciplined and do my job. Mark does a good job attacking, so I'm kind of like the security valve back there. It's worked out very well."
Although Nichols sometimes gets overlooked because he doesn't have the big offensive statistics, Healey appreciates the effort and knows the value he has on the team.
"The biggest thing with Steve is he knows how to win," Healey said.
"He does all the little things that need to be done which often go unnoticed by the novice fan. We see those things and fans who've been to most of our games have come to see it, too.
"He's a good, stable back who communicates well and is a strong tackler. He has the defensive mentality."
The Bays' 3.6 goals-against average is impressive in the indoor game, but Nichols said he believes it will only get better when the Bays see tougher competition with the league playoffs approaching later this month.
"It's impressive, but I think we'll do even better when we see some of the tougher competition," he said.
"We've had some big leads and the tendency is to go forward even more. We're going to have to be more disciplined when the championship comes around.
"We haven't seen the best, teams like Atlanta [10-0] and Tulsa [9-2] -- those are some strong teams and we're going to definitely have to step it up even more [defensively]."
Opponent: Greensboro Dynamo
Site: Du Burns Arena
Radio: WITH (1230 AM)
Tickets: Some available
Outlook: The Bays (10-0) clinched the U.S. Interregional Soccer League's Northern Division last weekend with a pair of wins. MF Joe Layfield and F Rob Elliott scored two goals apiece in the Bays' 10-5 win over visiting Connecticut on Friday. Sunday, the Richmond Kickers had to forfeit their game with the Bays because of a virus that hit the team. Greensboro won the league's outdoor title last spring. The Dynamo (1-2) is led by forward Eddie Radanski, a former NPSL standout who was the Player of the Year in the USISL outdoor season. The Bays are led by veteran MF Billy Ronson, who leads the league in assists and is second in scoring with 59 points (15 goals, 29 assists). Layfield is the Bays' top goal-scorer with 22.