Lower Merion returns stingy defense

Goalkeeper Will Rosenbaum talks with Lower Merion soccercoach Nico Severini. The Aces gave up only two goals last season, both of them in one game.
Goalkeeper Will Rosenbaum talks with Lower Merion soccercoach Nico Severini. The Aces gave up only two goals last season, both of them in one game. (MATTHEW HALL / Staff Photographer)
Posted: September 05, 2014

Will Rosenbaum does a lot of talking.

Lower Merion's senior goalkeeper starts early, before the game even has begun, telling his teammates to get on the sideline for warm-ups. The talking continues throughout the loosening-up period and during the game.

"Shift," he yells.

"Keep your shape," he repeats later, while pointing.

The conversation continues after the game, too, as he makes sure to let his teammates know exactly when they should be ready for pre-practice stretching the next day.

Evan Wolf communicates, too. It is a part of his role as a holding midfielder. That means, the senior says, he has to "command" the space from box to box.

Gian-Luca Hail might not do a lot of talking, but as a center back placed between Rosenbaum and Wolf, the senior surely hears a lot of it over 80 minutes.

The Aces walk the walk, too. The 2013 Central League champs finished the regular season with a 16-0 record, recording 15 shutouts.

They tied program records for wins in a season (16) and fewest losses in a season (1) and set program marks for best record in conference play (11-0), most shutouts during a regular season (15), most consecutive shutouts (12), and fewest goals allowed in a season (2).

Some members of that defensive unit have graduated, but key components remain, including the team's tricaptains: Rosenbaum, Hail, and Wolf.

"Scoring has its own glory and glamour, but I think defense is what really helps us win games," Wolf said. "Having a good defense is our best offense."

This year, senior Greg Kastein, who started at midfield last season, will be paired with Hail at center-back.

"We work together well because we aren't the same player," Hail said. "He's more short and quick, and I'm big and can win it in the air. I think we complement each other perfectly."

At left back, Lower Merion has junior Quinn Vagnoni returning. Sophomore David Smith is getting his first varsity experience on the right side.

"Quinn's just tenacious in the back," Hail said. "He doesn't give up. He wins everything in the air. He's a small guy, but he can jump over everyone."

There's a saying that coach Nico Severini likes to tell his players before each game:

"Keep the zero."

It has become Lower Merion's mantra, and for good reason. The Aces surrendered two goals in a game only once during the entire 2013 season. While Rosenbaum, Hail, and Wolf don't know how many the team will allow this campaign, they know one thing is for sure: Everyone is gunning for them.

"There's always a target on Lower Merion's back," Wolf said. "A lot of years, we are the team to beat. Soccer is a really weird game, and this year, the league can be wide open. Just a few lucky bounces could decide a game, a season."

Rosenbaum likes to joke that the little things you learn in kindergarten make a big impact during a game: Staying positive, smiling, and clapping your hands to say "good job" to a teammate. You'll see Rosenbaum do a lot of those things in a game.

"You never hear him yell anything negative towards someone," Hail said.

"He also has a good attitude. He's always smiling, laughing, having a good time - even in the middle of the game," Hail added.

And then there's the talking.

It can get "annoying" sometimes, Hail joked. But by now, he is used to it.


rallysports@phillynews.com

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