Fricke and the Triumph SC defense have allowed just six goals in 11 matches this season. Photo courtesy of Chattanooga Red Wolves SC.
In a world where everything is different, one thing remains the same - Greenville Triumph SC’s defensive dominance. The South Carolina side earned its seventh clean sheet of the season last Saturday, defeating second-place Chattanooga Red Wolves SC 1-0 at CHI Memorial Stadium and bringing its goals against average down to a staggering 0.55 goals per game.
Greenville’s defensive displays this season have been nothing short of impressive and it’s taken a group effort as Head Coach John Harkes has been forced to rotate players in and out of his back four on a regular basis. Last weekend Harkes used what looks to be his current first-choice back four of Tyler Polak, Brandon Fricke, Evan Lee, and Cesar Murrillo and the group shut down the league’s highest-scoring attack.
“We were just switched on as a group honestly,” said Fricke. “[We’re] really in-tune with each other and working off one another. We put our bodies on the line to help save any goals or chances and it was really just being insync”
With the Red Wolves behind them, the Triumph’s attention will now turn to the league’s second-highest scoring attack ahead of Friday night’s 2019 League One Final rematch against North Texas SC.
NTSC is not the side from a year ago. The title holders have struggled to string results together this season and currently find themselves in ninth place in the League One standings, but they’re a side that still carries a hefty threat.
“Obviously we know it’s going to be a tough game,” said Fricke. “They’re coming into a bit of form and they’re a very young and talented team. We’re going to have to stay switched on and mind our P’s and Q’s with these guys because they’re very talented. If we’re not alert, they can definitely get in behind and cause us some trouble.”
Despite its place in the table, NTSC has the best goals per game average in the league and is quickly reintegrating reigning MVP Arturo Rodriguez into the side after his return from a loan spell with Real Monarch SLC in the USL Championship. Head Coach Eric Quill’s side will be fighting for their playoff lives on Friday, while Greenville will be looking to reduce its magic number to seven points.
While Greenville’s defensive abilities have carried over from 2019 into 2020, the side has improved its most glaring weakness from last season - its ability to score goals. The Triumph scored six goals through their first 11 matches in 2019, this year they’ve scored 14 in the same number of games. The introduction of Alex Morrell, Lachlan McLean, and Noah Pilato has given the side more balance and raised the bar for what it can achieve.
“[We’re focusing on] where [North Texas] are strong and we want to be prepared for that, but mostly we’re focusing on us and where we can hurt them and take the game to them,” said Fricke. “That’s been our focus this week -- areas where we can give them some trouble and continue this streak that we’re on.”
McLean, a 2020 offseason addition to the Triumph roster, has two goals in his last three matches. Photo courtesy of Greenville Tirumph SC
The Triumph have excelled this season when they’ve gotten the ball wide and whipped in crosses for their forwards and late-arriving midfielders, with all 14 of their goals coming inside the box. With an ever-changing North Texas back four - the same back four has started consecutive matches just twice this season - Greenville should enter this match feeling that it can take the game to the visitors and dictate the proceedings.
Expect Harkes’ veteran side to be full of confidence and energy heading into this match knowing a win will bring them one step closer to a return to the League One Final and match their longest winning streak of the season at four games.