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The making of a shutout streak
Sometimes a shutout can be as simple as a goalie having a good game.
Five straight shutouts, however, takes every aspect of a team's game being at a top level.
The Arizona Western soccer team had a streak of five straight shutouts end Saturday in a 6-1 win at Mesa. But while the streak was alive — a streak that started Aug. 25 against Arizona Community College Athletic Conference power Pima — it wasn't just goalie Oscar Hernandez, or a defense led by middle back Bryan Portillo, that led to 481 minutes without surrendering a goal.
“It's just like any other sport — the best defense is a good offense,” coach Kenny Dale said. “If you can not give the ball away to the other team in bad areas, then you'll have a lot more success. We've been getting better at that also.”
The Matadors scored 20 goals on the streak, buoyed in part by an 8-0 win against GateWay in Game 2. There's only been one 1-0 victory, coming in Game 3 at Paradise Valley.
Hernandez — the reigning ACCAC Goalkeeper of the Year — said any scoring helps the defense, and ample scoring is even more beneficial.
“And lately, we've been scoring more than one goal a game, which is helping us tremendously,” Hernandez said. “In the back, we don't worry as much. We stay on our toes still cause at any point any team can score on us, but when we score first it helps us a lot.”
The streak has pushed the Matadors (7-1) into second place in the ACCAC and just a game against the perennial cream of the conference crop, Yavapai. The Roughriders were 7-0 before Saturday's game at Pima and host the Matadors Thursday.
Of course, the Matadors could be tied with the Roughriders if not for a hiccup Aug. 25 at Glendale, a 3-2 overtime loss to the Gauchos. The decisive goal was given up with 67 seconds.
But the team went the next five-plus games without giving up another.
“I think it hurt our guys' pride a little bit,” Dale said. “I think they felt like it was a little bit of an embarrassment to lose a game with 1.7 seconds to go. So I think it was a real gut check not just for the defenders and goaltender but everybody on the team.
“We learn from our mistakes,” Portillo said. “We still have mistakes always, everybody has mistakes, but we learn from those.”
Portillo is the only member of the defense back from last year. Dale said Hernandez has gotten better at communicating with his defenders since last year, and having Portillo — who was not the center back a year ago — back makes the communication even better.
“That's how we position ourselves on the field,” Hernandez said. “Portillo, I help him out and it helps me out tremendously because when I relay commands out to my defense, they know where to go. That helps me out in the end — I face less shots — and it's great for the team.”
But with everything clicking — the offense, the defense, the goalie, the communication — Hernandez said there's one final element to any extended shutout streak.
“We've been lucky on some of the shots, to be honest,” Hernandez said. “But at the end of the day a shutout is a shutout.”