In a soccer match the players who play the forward position often score the goals, the midfielders usually touch the ball the most, and the goalie has the chance to win the match if it goes to a shootout.
That may make the defender position underappreciated by some people, but not to many coaches. To the coaches, a good defender has a better chance at stopping a goal from being scored than a goalkeeper. And a versatile player at defender can also start the attack by making a good pass to the midfield.
At the high school level, if you’re a good defender you rarely get subbed out of the match.
Tim Walters, the college coach for the Omaha women’s soccer team, considers the defenders — the two center backs and left and right fullbacks — some of the most important players on the team.
“I think you’ll see a lot of teams around the country that will build their teams around their center backs,” Walters said.
While at the high school level soccer statistics are sometimes limited to goals and assists, in college the coaches have video and computer software programs that help them track numerous stats for defenders. Those stats include the percentage of tackles won, headers won, blocked shots and the percentage of passes that advanced the ball up the field. That helps the coaches to see the impact a great defender can have on a match.
And the center back is the core of your leadership during a match, Walters said.
“Everything happens back to front on how you start, and how you build up, starting with your center backs,” Walters said. “And on the other end, they’re kind of your last line of defense. Having two good center backs can save you a lot of goals over the course of a long season. When we’re recruiting, it’s a really important thing we’re looking for.”
The high school soccer season in Nebraska was canceled this season due to the coronavirus pandemic, but many girls soccer players have been recruited to play college soccer. And of the 47 players known to have signed or made verbal commitments to play women’s soccer at an NCAA Division I program, 21 play defender.
Some of the better players in the state play defender, too. Mackenzie Boeve from Lincoln Southeast will play college soccer for Kansas, Grace Crockett from Omaha Marian is going to UNO, and Lexi Thomsen from Elkhorn is going to Nebraska.
Why does Walters think so many defenders in Nebraska were recruited?
“We have good athletes here,” he said. “I think that’s part of it, good athletes and good club coaches. Fullbacks, in particular, we have good, fit athletes, and college coaches are looking for players who can run up and down the sideline for 90 minutes. One of our starting fullbacks, Brylie Meyer, is from Lincoln (Pius X), and she is super-fit and gets up and down the line for 90 minutes.”
When Walters is evaluating players during the recruiting process — and especially when it comes to the defender position — he’s looking for a player with a big presence.
“So when you walk up to a field when you’re recruiting you can usually tell right away what center back has a good presence,” Walters said. “And then we’re looking for someone who is comfortable on the ball. And that can be hard to find. Center backs that are comfortable on the ball and that have a great presence, they’re usually highly recruited.”
On some youth and high school teams, coaches may have many players who want to play defender, but other times you have to move players from other positions to defender. Crockett thinks moving to defender during youth soccer gave her an opportunity to play college soccer.
“Playing that position helped me get the looks that I had,” Crockett said.
When Southeast girls coach Jim Ageton is choosing the players for the defender spot, the No. 1 thing he looks for is players that are competitive.
“I want that kid that hates to lose at anything,” Ageton said. “I want the kid who wants to throw the pingpong paddle across the room because they got beat by their brother. Because that kid will never give up on a play. It doesn’t matter if they’re on the left side and the breakaway is all the way over on the right side of the field, that kid hates to lose, so they’re going to get over there.”