Men's Soccer

No. 8 Syracuse’s defense holds up without centerpiece Kamal Miller

Josh Shub-Seltzer | Contributing Photographer

Mo Adams works to track down a Northwestern player Sunday night.

UPDATED: Sept. 4, 2017 at 9:16 p.m.

Syracuse had an entire offseason to prepare for soccer without Miles Robinson — the former-star and second overall draft pick in the 2017 MLS SuperDraft. After Robinson’s replacement, junior center back Kamal Miller, received a red card during Friday’s 1-1 draw against Princeton and a one-game suspension, head coach Ian McIntyre had 48 hours to prepare without Miller.

Deploying its typical 3-5-2 formation, the Orange relied on John-Austin Ricks, Jan Breitenmoser and Sondre Norheim to man the back line. Sophomore Mo Adams, usually a roving midfielder, dropped down more in a central-defensive midfielder role to help accommodate for Miller’s loss.

Against Northwestern, No. 8 SU (3-0-1) — a program built on defense since McIntyre took over in 2010 — suffocated the Wildcat (1-3-0) offense and limited the visitors to only four shots in a 3-1 victory Sunday night at SU Soccer Stadium.

“I thought together, we shut them down,” Ricks said. “It’s always a big loss losing a player like Kamal, but we pulled it together. We talked it over and knew exactly what to do.”

090317_suvsnwestern_shub-seltzer_cp-37Josh Shub-Seltzer | Contributing Photographer

Rain fell and the slick field almost cost the home team early. A long cross to a Northwestern attacker nearly resulted in a clear shot attempt, as Breitenmoser slipped before he regained his footing and snuffed out the threat.

Other than that slip, the junior from Switzerland excelled. Minutes before Tajon Buchanon scored SU’s third goal, Northwestern had a two-on-two breakaway. Before a dangerous through ball could be sent, Breitenmoser muscled his defender off the ball and pushed forward, setting up SU’s next scoring chance.

In a two-minute span in the second half, Breitenmoser gained possession for SU off of an opposing goal kick, caused another takeaway and cleared a loose ball in front of the SU net to keep a clean sheet.

“They can take over responsibility,” said SU goalie Hendrik Hilpert, who did not start due to a violation of team rules. “It’s the most important thing. They knew a lot was on them today.”

Ricks continued his strong start to the 2017 campaign. Ricks used his speed and ball control to disrupt Northwestern’s wing play. In the first half, Ricks stole the ball and was surrounded by a trio of Wildcats. He swung his right foot forward but didn’t hit the ball. His fake forced the three players to turn their heads, looking for a ball that wasn’t there. His pass gave the Orange another scoring opportunity.

Last Wednesday and again Sunday night, McIntyre said he worried about his team’s fitness on the second leg of a weekend series. While SU showed no signs of fatigue in the first half, the second showed some cracks in Syracuse’s defense. The back three formed a wall among midfield to mask tired legs, but the Wildcats still had success in lob passes over the top.

“The game kind of opened second half,” McIntyre said. “We lost our legs a little bit. The game got a little bit sloppy. You want that fourth (goal) to kind of take the air out of it they got that (goal) and kind of messed us a little bit.”

090317_suvsnwestern_shub-seltzer_cp-4Josh Shub-Seltzer | Contributing Photographer

Northwestern senior Elo Ozumba danced with the ball in the box and nearly created a clear look at the net before Norheim slid in and knocked the ball away. On the ensuing corner, Jake Roberge rose up and knocked the ball past Hilpert.

With NU’s offense pushing forward more, Adams dropped farther down and created a four-man back line. This switch, which McIntyre said to expect more throughout the season, secured the defense and the win.

As Syracuse walked off the field applauding their fans, Miller wore a gray Syracuse jump suit and a wide smile. Later in the season, he will be the centerpiece on a defense that will need him against tough ACC competition, but for one night, the Orange handled his absence just fine.

“No matter what happens,” Ricks said. “We’re learning. We are a new defense, a new back line, we’re making it work.”

CORRECTION: In a previous version of this post, the team Kamal Miller received a red card against was misstated. Miller received a red card against Princeton. The Daily Orange regrets this error.

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