Defense is the heart of a soccer team. Offense is the soul. Most of this year's teams will be operating with a lot more heart than soul.
In a year when every public school team but Hammond has a new goalkeeper, defenses will be critical to a team's success.
"It's going to be a bigger challenge for us to have a new goalie," said Centennial's first-team All-Met defender Ben Stephenson. "It will show us how good and how tough we can be.'"
Centennial (15-0-2), defending Class 3A state champs, should be plenty tough -- another state championship caliber team led by All-Met striker Brian West (seven goals, 13 assists).
In addition to Stephenson at sweeper, the defense returns first-team All-County fullback Kumi Walker and second-team All-County fullback Cort Yetso.
And to show how important coach Bill Stara thinks defense is, he's moved second-team All-County midfielder Brian Otten to stopper, where he can showcase both his defensive and offensive skills. That's as formidable a defense as a coach could hope for.
The Eagles allowed just seven goals last season -- never more than one a game. That kind of defense translates into unbeatable teams.
Centennial finished ranked No. 1 in the Baltimore area and No. 10 in the nation, and have a 14-game winning streak. They've won three state titles in four years. They've gone unbeaten three of the last four years and are 56-2-7 during that time. They are unbeaten in 30 straight league games and are 27-0-3 during that streak.
"To be a good defender you have to have physical and mental presence," Stara said. "People have to worry about where you're at. There are two kinds of defenders -- the mean sons of guns, and the intelligent ones who can anticipate. If you can get an RTC intelligent and hard-nosed defender, then it makes it easy on coaches. Ours can play both roles."
"Goals will be hard to come by this year, so some teams have moved their better players to defense."
Stara is referring especially to Glenelg, where coach John Bouman is experimenting by playing speedy second-team All-County striker Tony Marchegiano (nine goals, four assists) at sweeper.
Bouman hasn't made a final decision, but the fact that he is considering it shows he understands the importance of defense and speed in the back.
Marchegiano played sweeper against Archbishop Spalding in the opener last Thursday, but Glenelg was upset, 2-0, and Marchegiano miss-kicked a ball into a Spalding goal.
Glenelg, 9-5 a year ago, is one of the few teams that lost most of its defense, so it needs help. Junior Zeeshan Shafi has plenty of speed and will play sweeper if Marchegiano doesn't. Glenelg's new goalkeeper is sophomore Justin Benoliel who is up from junior varsity.
The Gladiators are hoping for a fourth straight winning season and a top-four county finish.
Oakland Mills (15-2), the defending Class 2A state champs, surprised everyone last year as its relentless work ethic translated into victories. Don Shea, 1994 All-Metro Coach of the Year, stresses defense, and the Scorpions return all four starting defenders. Fullback Simon Bwalya (8, 2) was second-team All-Met and scored regularly off set plays.
He's joined by second-team All-County defender Dan Stoutenborough, Paul Sanin and Mark Zirkle. Two years ago, Stoutenborough was a midfielder. Another defender, Luke Tourlette, started after Sanin was injured against Loyola. Oakland Mills allowed 10 goals and had nine shutouts last season.
Shea is trying to pick from among four potential goalkeeper candidates.
Defense played a major role in Mount Hebron's sudden rise to 8-5 overall, and its best league record, 4-3.
The Vikings won five games by one goal last season, while cutting down on goals allowed from 40 to 21. Scott Conroy is the Vikings' new coach. "I think we'll continue [to play] like we did last year," he said.
Mike Stromberg leads the defense at sweeper and has good skills. Buckley, a captain, is a good one-on-one marker. Reese will mark the other team's top player. And Graham will play stopper and is a good attacker.
Mount Hebron's new goalkeeper is sophomore Tom Wunk who played the field a year ago. Wunk replaces second-team All-County Shane Ardo.
Wilde Lake (4-9-1), a team that allowed just 14 goals last season, proved that no matter how strong the defense, its still takes goals to win. They lost seven games by 1-0.
Wilde Lake again should be strong defensively. Four defensive starters -- captain Mike Riismandel, Jeremy Young, Lars Berg and Nick Wexler -- return. Wexler broke his leg against Centennial last season.
Nick Parypinski, an Olympic Development Program player, is new in goal. "We're in real good shape at goalkeeper," Nesbitt said. They'll miss first-team All-County defender Jeff Curtis, however.
Hammond (6-8) is attempting to shore up its defense by moving Adam Eastright from midfield. The addition of sophomore ODP fullback Ryan Pflugrad helps. They join senior sweeper Tom Dispenza, senior fullback Tom Salkeld and returning goalkeeper Dave Tollick.