Columbia College's Matt McKenna spearheads soccer team's defensive success

Monday, August 27, 2012 | 8:16 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA – For Matt McKenna, playing goalkeeper for the Columbia College men's soccer team means more than just being physically imposing at the net.

McKenna must also make his presence known by communicating with his teammates. The junior goalkeeper takes the role of a verbal commander on the field, constantly shouting advice. In his position, McKenna can see the field and keeps his defenders updated on the movements and position of the opposing players.

“Don’t let him turn, don’t let him shoot,” McKenna shouts during practice, encouraging his teammates to stay strong defensively.

If the defensemen do get beat, McKenna is more than capable of stopping the ball himself. He can meet a charging attacker one-on-one in the field and make them shoot around him, or he can wait on the goal line and sprawl after a ball as it is rifled toward him. McKenna set a school record last season, allowing only eight goals in the 19 games he started.

He thrives in his role and takes pride in the uniqueness of his position.

“In soccer there’s multiple players per position at a time, but there’s always only one goalie,” McKenna said. “I like being the only one from my team at my position on the field at a time.”

McKenna serves as the last line of defense for what was one of the best defensive units the school has seen, as well as one of the best in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics last year. The Cougars set several school records in 2011, including the most shutouts in a season with 12 and the fewest goals allowed as a team with 10. The Cougars also had the fewest goals against in the association for the season.

Since McKenna's first year as a starter was so successful, his return this year has him and his coaches brimming with optimism.

“We’re super confident with our back line and Matt in goal,” coach John Klein said. “We try and limit teams to no more than one goal per game. That keeps us in the game, and Matt gives us a great chance to do that.”

McKenna doesn’t accept full credit for his team’s defensive prowess. He noted that three of the four starting defensemen from last year’s record-setting team are back this year, including three time All-American senior Nikola Velickovic. Having strong defenders makes McKenna’s job easier and takes a lot of the pressure off his shoulders.

“I rarely get shots on goal because of how good our defenders are,” McKenna said. “I only had to face five or six breakaway shots all of last year, so working with the defensemen is big for me.”

Klein also recognizes the talent of his defense and is able to play to his team’s strength by emphasizing team defense.

“We really take pride in protecting the goal and getting shutouts,” Klein said. “There was a time last year when we felt that we could get a shutout every time we stepped on the field.”

The Cougars open the regular season on the road Tuesday at Central Methodist University. Their first home game is against Mount Mercy University on Sept. 8 at R. Marvin Owens Soccer Stadium.

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