Salisbury men's soccer relying on young Gulls in goal
The Salisbury University men’s soccer team had just two options at the goalkeeper position last season. The team opened the 2019 campaign with five different players vying for the job.
This depth features just one returner in senior keeper Sam Roy. Freshman keepers Ryan Miller, Gabe Dunn, Ashton Carey and Ryan Socks comprise the remainder of the Salisbury goalie depth chart.
Head coach Alex Hargrove has been pleased with every goalie and their contribution to the team throughout the young season.
“Trying to add to the [goalkeeper] depth was important this season, and each goalie brings something important to the position,” Hargrove said. “It’s great for the entire team and developmental opportunities because of depth.”
This season has allowed several young Sea Gull keepers to get some experience in goal and to try leading the defense in important game-time situations. But having this influx of young talent has prevented Hargrove from naming a solidified starter at the position.
Instead, Hargrove entered the year rotating goalies throughout the week, even occasionally throughout a single game. Hargrove wanted to see how the players would perform under pressure.
“About two weeks into the season, the difference between the number-one keeper and number-four keeper was pretty small,” Hargrove said. “It’s important to see how they dealt with pressure situations and [organizing] the back line.”
Miller has stood out among the competition this season, playing in nine games with seven starts. Miller boasts a 1.05 goals against average with 29 saves and a 5-2-1 record in 2019.
As a first-year Sea Gull, Miller feels that getting this experience has allowed him to grow both as an overall player and as a leader of the team.
“[As a goalie], it’s all about feeling out each player, adjust to teammates and getting advice from coaches,” Miller said. “Being open-minded and coachable is the best thing you can be as a player.”
Miller is not the only young Salisbury keeper that has gotten an opportunity this year. Dunn and Carey have both had chances to grab the starting job this season.
In two appearances, Dunn has recorded five saves and a 1-1-0 record. Carey has also tallied two appearances, allowing just one goal with no earned record.
Hargrove praises and speaks highly of both Dunn and Carey in their preparation and performance in practice and limited game time this year.
“[Dunn’s] greatest improvement has been on his foot skills and verbal communication,” Hargrove said. “[Carey] has settled into his own and commands the back line really well.”
Even goalies Roy and Socks, who may not be getting as much playing time as the others, have provided a certain level of effort and intensity in practice which has pushed their teammates and helped the depth of the position grow throughout the season.
Regardless of who is in goal in games or at practice, the team has confidence and rallies around the players in the net.
Junior defender Matt Mackenzie said the defense has appreciated the hard work and talent of the current unit of keepers, as it is important to be solid at the back in order to win games.
With just seven games remaining, Hargrove said there is still plenty of room for improvement from every keeper on the roster. Hargrove identified two things that needed improvement: securing the ball and communicating on the back end.
“Catching the ball on saves and from set pieces is a priority for keepers both in practice and in games,” Hargrove said. “In communication, our volume and frequency of communication to the guys in front of them can always be better.”
Whether it be crosses from corner kicks, free kicks or from shots by the other team, it is valued to be able to secure the ball to prevent further chances for the opponent.
As the goalkeeper, it is vitally important to be decisive and vocal during a game, as goalkeepers are the last line of defense, and they have the best view of how the opponent plans to attack throughout the game.
The keeper's command aids the defense in covering what it might be unable to see from its position. This is key to organization on the back end and preventing the opposition from scoring.
When it comes to improvement, Ryan Miller states that it is important for himself and his fellow goalies to develop a certain anticipation for anything that can happen in a game.
“We should always improve [being able to] read and adjust during the game and anticipate the unexpected,” Miller said.
Improving upon the mental aspect of play is crucial for goalies, as they are required to make important split-second decisions ranging from positioning to communicating to their defenders, and a lapse in judgement or a simple mistake can cost their team the game.
Mackenzie also mentioned that communication as a defensive unit could improve, starting from the back and the back line. This allows the defense to stay on the same page and earn as many clean sheets as possible.
While Miller has been the go-to player at the goalie position, Hargrove’s main priority is winning games, and he feels comfortable making a change moving forward if he feels it is necessary.
“We are going to try to put the eleven guys and the field we think gives us the best chance to win the match,” Hargrove said.
By TYLER SMITH
Featured photo: Emma Reider image.