Men's Soccer

Syracuse defense guides team into matchup against Manhattan

Sterling Boin | Staff Photographer

Jordan Murrell is one of three SU juniors pacing the back line.

As Syracuse looks to duplicate its unprecedented success from a season ago, it won’t be led by any seniors.

There are none on the roster, a rarity for any collegiate program. Now, head coach Ian McIntyre is looking to a tenured back line to guide a very inexperienced team.

“We’ve got a lot of new faces, but one area where we have experience is the back four,” McIntyre said.

When No. 17 Syracuse (2-1, 0-1 Atlantic Coast) takes on Manhattan (0-2) at SU Soccer Stadium at 7 p.m. on Monday, its defense will assume its usual role. Comprising three juniors and a very talented freshman, the Orange’s back line has impressed on the field and provided valuable leadership.

“The defense has been very solid, and probably our strongest part of the field,” McIntyre said. “We’re even a little banged up there, but Oyvind (Alseth) has been great for us as a freshman, and Skylar, Chris and Jordan have been their usual selves.”

Juniors Skylar Thomas, Chris Makowski, Jordan Murrell and the freshman Alseth, along with injured sophomore Tyler Hilliard, provide leadership traditionally offered by a senior class. It is their differences in both play and personality that are allowing them to mesh so well.

Thomas, the team’s 6-foot-3 captain, towers over the rest of the group. He operates with a calm sense of urgency, often sweeping away opposing attacks in their latter phases, and is the Orange’s unquestioned leader on and off the field.

Next to Thomas, in the center of the defense, Makowski is a quiet workhorse. His speed exudes franticness at times, but that is supplanted by a relaxed demeanor when the ball is at his feet.

At the outside back positions, Murrell and Alseth are each intricate parts of SU’s offense. The Orange distributes to the two out of the midfield, and they are then expected to quarterback the offense from the flanks. After any failed scoring attempt, Murrell and Alseth have long runs back to their primary posts on the back line.

Combine all of that, and you have a defense that has given up two goals in three games and helped the Orange to two shutouts in the early going.

“We’re just working together very well,” Murrell said. “Bringing in Oyvind as a right back is a big addition, and Chris, Skylar and I have been working together since freshman year so we all know each other well.”

With the Orange’s young team transitioning into a new conference, the defense is noticeably seasoned. Against Hartwick, the back four wasn’t just striving to succeed as a unit, but to help the team operate on both ends of the field.

In the 23rd minute, Murrell sent in a free kick that was ousted by the Hartwick defense. He then began to sprint down the sideline and told midfielder Stefanos Stamoulacatos to cover for him while he retreated. Stamoulacatos slowed down the Hartwick counterattack long enough before Murrell gathered an errant pass.

Murrell then carried the ball while yelling at midfielder Juuso Pasanen to “get higher” so SU could start its next attack. Meanwhile, Thomas moved Alseth closer to the far sideline and told Makowski to give Murrell a target.

It all culminated in a composed Syracuse possession started by SU’s defenders, whose voices could be heard reverberating throughout SU Soccer Stadium.

“We can see the whole game,” Murrell said, “so we see it as our responsibility to help everyone else see it, too.”

The four defenders are the last thing separating sophomore goalkeeper Alex Bono from the opposition. From his vantage point, the defense is exceeding its duties of simply protecting him.

From the goalie box, Bono sees the Orange operating like a clock and it starts with the unit closest to him.

“These guys are doing a great job helping the whole team come together,” Bono said. “We rely on them.”

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