Defense Sparks a Historic Start for Men’s Soccer

Monday, Sep 19, 2022 at 6:41 pm by Sports Editor

By: Andrew Selover | @AndrewSelover 
CitrusTV Men’s Soccer Beat Reporter 

Syracuse, N.Y. – A year ago, Syracuse men’s soccer won two of eight ACC matches. After all, the ACC is widely considered the best conference in NCAA men’s soccer. In the latest coaches poll, three of the top five teams in the country came from the ACC. This is what makes Syracuse’s 6-0-1 record and 2-0-0 start to conference play in 2022 so impressive.  

SU allowed over one goal per game in a .500 season in 2021. A year later, head coach Ian McIntyre’s defense has simply been dominant. The Orange have only allowed two goals in seven games, ranking best in the ACC and third in the nation. The last time SU finished in the top half of the ACC defensively came all the way back in 2016. Jonathan Yardley, an ACC men’s soccer broadcaster said the Syracuse defense has “passed the test.” He added that the Orange are “playing the ball well out of the back, not just defending but starting the attack.”  

In its first ACC matchup of the year, No. 24 Syracuse hosted No. 22 Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish enter the season as reigning ACC tournament champions, but McIntyre’s team suffocated ND all game long. “Our ability and our willingness to win the ball back, that’s Syracuse soccer,” according to McIntyre. In the end, the Orange outshot the Irish 22-3 in a 1-0 victory. Goalkeeper Russell Shealy jokingly laughed, “I had one save against Notre Dame. Let’s not take that away.”  

Defender Christian Curti has received high praise from McIntyre following the victory over Notre Dame for being Syracuse’s “best player to start the season.” However, the senior was quick to deflect the praise to the seven men in front of the back line for keeping the pressure in the attacking third: “I think our midfield is fantastic at winning the ball in the middle of the field.” Curti continued with “even our attackers press like crazy.”  

On Friday, SU picked up a statement win for the program. No. 16 Syracuse handed No. 1 Clemson its first loss in twelve matches. The Orange bolstered their defense to face the reigning national champions as Abdi Salim returned to the starting lineup in a conference matchup for the first time since 2020. The senior missed all of 2021 with a torn ACL but is “arguably one of [SU’s] strongest defenders,” according to McIntyre. Joined by Olu Oyegunle and Buster Sjoberg on the back line, Salim held Clemson to one goal for just the second time this season. This time, Russell Shealy played a much larger role. The graduate senior goalkeeper came up with five second half saves in to stun the top-ranked Tigers 2-1. 

ESPN’s Yardley believes that “getting that taste of shutouts and winning is the perfect way to start” for the Orange. “It really gives this team a good foundation of both confidence and knowing what to do on the field to continue good play as they head into tougher challenges ahead,” Yardley concluded.  

After a Tuesday matchup at Colgate, Syracuse’s defense turns its sights to Virginia. The Cavaliers average the best scoring offense thus far in the ACC. On the other hand, SU is yet to allow a regular season goal at the SU Soccer Stadium. A win would give the Orange their first ever 3-0-0 start to ACC play.