After a tough start to the season, the FIU men’s soccer team (6-8-1) (2-4-1 Conference USA) has seen a resurgence on the defensive side of the ball.
FIU began the first eight games of the season playing some sluggish defense. Through those eight games FIU was one of the worst defenses in the nation allowing 17 goals in eight games, an average of 2.12 goals allowed per game. To put that into perspective, if the Panthers were to have maintained that average they would be ranked 191 out of 198 total teams in goals allowed per game.
During the defensive rut, FIU started three different goalies. The first goalkeeper to get a chance was sophomore Robin Spiegel. Spiegel had been FIU’s starting goalkeeper last year, but injuries have slowed him down this season and was benched after just one game.
Next man up was freshman Lawrence Craggs. Craggs would start the Panthers next five games, during those five games Craggs gave up nine goals.
Head Coach Ken Arena would then turn to redshirt sophomore Daniel Mion. In his first game as the Panthers starting goalie Mion, would record FIU’s first shutout of the season. However, Mion would allow four goals the very next game and was quickly sent back to the bench.
Luckily for FIU, the Panther offense helped weather the storm as they were hitting on all cylinders during their defensive slump. During the first eight games FIU managed to score 16 goals, which was enough to place them in the nations top 20 scoring offenses. The Panthers were 3-5 during this stretch. While FIU managed to win three games despite their defensive woes, they had to make drastic improvements if they hoped to continue winning games.
The Panthers have definitely ratcheted up their defensive intensity over the last seven games. FIU has allowed just five goals in their last seven matches, an average of 0.71 goals allowed per game. The 0.71 average would place FIU 18th in the nation if it were extrapolated throughout the entire season.
If the five goals through seven matches weren’t impressive enough, it should be noted that one of the matches came against the University of Alabama at Birmingham who at the time was ranked first in the nation in scoring. The Panthers held UAB to just one goal.
In fact, during the seven game stretch the only time FIU allowed more than one goal was in an overtime loss to 25th ranked University of New Mexico, were the Panthers surrendered two goals. FIU is currently averaging 1.56 goals allowed per game.
“We just had a lot of guys come in to the team in August,” Arena said. “We had two weeks together and what you are seeing now is a result of a group that’s been together for the proper amount of time. Most professional teams are together for two months of preseason, in college we get two weeks. Now you are seeing the final product of our group offensively and defensively.”
FIU has 15 new players this season, which may of led to the slow start. One of the new players and one of the bright spots on the Panthers has been freshman defender Marvin Hezel. Hezel has started all 15 games for FIU and has played the most minutes of any player on the team, 1338. The 6-foot-3 defender out of Germany has provided a big presence on both sides of the ball for FIU. Apart from his obvious impact on the Panther defense, Hezel has also contributed to the offense, with three goals on the season.
FIU will look to finish out the last two games on their regular season slate strong, as the team still feels that there is much more left to accomplish.
“We could play with anyone,” Arena said. “We still have two games, and we still have a lot to prove.”