Syracuse’s Christian Curti collided with his Binghamton defender at SU Soccer Stadium, earning a yellow card in the 36th minute. The Bearcats’ Anthony Lazaridis readied for the ensuing free kick on the left side of the net.
Buster Sjoberg stared down the ball as it flew off the right foot of Lazaridis. He continued to trickle away from the pack as he realized the free kick attempt would find its way to SU goalie Lucas Daunhauer. As the ball came down, he leaped in the air and headed the ball away toward midfield.
In Syracuse’s last home game against Niagara, Sjoberg spent the 90 minutes in sweatpants at the end of SU’s bench. A red card toward the end of the Georgetown game disqualified him from the nonconference victory. Head coach Ian McIntyre praised Syracuse’s back line despite missing the junior’s presence on the wings.
Tuesday night had a similar story, one without starting goalie Russell Shealy and a different starter in the midfield. Still, Binghamton (4-1, 0-0 American East) only managed three shots through 90 minutes, two of which came within minutes of each other at the beginning of the second half. Led by Sjoberg — a transfer from Wofford College in his first year with the Orange — Syracuse’s (4-1, 1-0 Atlantic Coast) defense once again held firm in its shutout win over Binghamton.
“We came out flying, and it just keeps going from there,” Sjoberg said. “You know what you’re going to do, guys started pushing you.”
In the middle of the first half, Sjoberg planted his foot toward the ball. He successfully pierced the ball away from a Binghamton forward, leading to a loose ball that defender Noah Singelmann quickly brought into his possession. Beginning from the right corner, Singelmann played out a two-on-two with defender Luke Biasi, leading to a shot from Giona Leibold. While the shot sailed high off the crossbar, SU had still successfully parlayed a turnover deep in Binghamton territory into an offensive opportunity.
McIntyre said that Syracuse typically defends from the front with the goal of meeting opponents high in their formations. This creates opportunities for turnovers, a “risk-reward” style of play that places more pressure on the back three defenders.
“When we have that intensity and that endeavor, we can cause some teams some problems,” McIntyre said. “But it does put a stress on your defenders.”
In the warning minutes of Tuesday night’s blowout, a Binghamton midfielder faked right and juked left around Manel Busquets at midfield. But even as the Bearcats fans began to cheer and 20th-year head coach Paul Marco pulled down his black mask to give out orders for the attack, Syracuse’s backline sprinted past its Binghamton counterparts. Max Kent eventually chased the ball down and cleared it back out of SU territory.
Sjoberg played the first half on the nearside wing, closest to Syracuse’s bench. This allowed McIntyre to coach him through each possession — where to position himself and how to chart out a path to cut off his defender. He typically matched up with Lazaridis in the first 45 minutes, forcing him inside whenever the ball went his way.
The defensive unit has worked on their communication in practice, which led to success in-game, Sjoberg said. Daunhauer periodically told the back three to “stay wide” or “get back” when he saw them falling too far out of position.
“You hear us on the field, and you don’t hear them,” Sjoberg said. “It just gives a feeling we’re going to win this game.”
Sjoberg said it’s easy for him to keep his defenders close to the sideline as he waits for help to come over. His goal is to halt any forward momentum until the wingback can get in front of his man, he said. Then, either SU player can focus solely on the opponent’s feet, spin the opponent around and allow another SU player to pick up that player inside.
Minutes into the second half, Sjoberg strayed from this approach and allowed his defender to get behind him. He recovered in time to reach the Bearcat as he entered the top of the Syracuse box. The forward looked up at Daunhauer as he slowly shuffled left and motioned inward in an attempt to finally get around Sjoberg. He juked right, hoping to shed the junior, but Sjoberg poked the ball out with his left leg, snuffing out any attempt at a shot.
“It’s another important regional game,” McIntyre said. “These ones are so difficult and tricky.”
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