Column: Defense remains a focus for Eastern’s men’s soccer team

Blake Faith, Men's Soccer Reporter

File Photo | The Daily Eastern News
Kris Luke dribbles the ball up the field in Eastern’s 1-1 tie against Evansville in August 2018 at Lakeside Field.

Offensively, the men’s soccer team only scored 12 goals throughout the season last year.

While the offense was stifled, the team’s defense, which it is known for, was good. Coach Kiki Lara made defense an imperative part of the team’s culture and it has shown.

Last year, Eastern’s defense had huge results against dominant teams in the Summit League.

Denver last year had Andre Shinyashiki, who recorded 28 goals last season. In Eastern’s first match against Denver the score was 0-0 in a two-overtime tie.

In other sports a tie is either not an actual result or it is a negative result. In soccer terms it’s the complete opposite. So when Eastern tied Denver last year, Lara credited his defense, and moving forward, they can show up in big games.

Eastern only has one returning defender from last year and that is senior Edger Mesa.

Mesa was named an OVC player to watch by the conference’s coaches and was a member of the First Team All-Summit League last season. Mesa helped the Panthers against Denver and also in a shutout against Western Illinois.

The new defenders that have been in exhibition play alongside Mesa were Frank DeBry, Quinn Rechner and William Hogne. The results of exhibition play were a record of 1-1 and three goals allowed.

Redshirt junior goalkeeper Jonathon Burke recorded a 1.20 goals against average. With a whole different defense in front of him than last year, Burke’s attitude is unphased by the changes, and he is ready to see the next chapter.

“It was very important to get the new guys, especially the defenders, understanding our system right away,” Burke said. “I believe the connections with them are growing everyday and everyday they are surprising me and the returning guys more with their abilities.”

Before Burke’s first year in goal (last season), Eastern’s goalkeeper Mike Novotny had a career goals against average of 1.74, which is sixth in school history. Novotny is also third in school history in saves with 286 saves in his Panther career.

Burke replaced Novotny after his departure in 2017, and if his minutes were at the minimum 2,500, he would be second on the all-time list before his second season with 1.20 goals against average. Last year Burke recorded 66 saves for the season.

This year the men’s soccer team will still focus on defense, but have no need to worry about the different personnel or new season. Their only focus is on having a good season and everyone playing their role on this team.

The men’s soccer team will play Evansville this Friday in Evansville, Indiana.

Blake Faith can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]