The men’s soccer team (5-2-1) was involved in a tale of two vastly different halves on Saturday against Brown.
The first was a 45-minute, four-goal affair that ended with the teams tied at two. The second was the remaining 45 minutes and two 10-minute overtime periods, which were scoreless. Though the Lions have been playing at a high level this season, the discrepancy in defense can happen when a unit has been playing together for only a short time.
The Light Blue defense in 2012, which finished fourth in the Ivy League in goals against during conference play, featured many players no longer with the team. Brendan O’Hearn, Ifiok Akpandak, Will Young, and Quentin Grigsby all graduated, while Kyle Culbertson transferred to Ohio State, leaving sophomore Bryce Terrill the only returning starter.
After some early season experimenting, the team recently appears to have settled on Terrill and first-year Rhys Williams on the outside, plus senior David Westlake and first-year Joe Morris in the middle, as its go-to defensive combination.
For Westlake, this is the result of a quick rise. He played in only four games his first two seasons—partly due to injury and partly thanks to the presence of many older defenders on the team—but played in 12 a year ago as an occasional starter.
“The objective at center back is to organize the players in front of you to make your job easier, and most importantly to not let goals in,” Westlake said in an email. “What I do think is different is that I have gained confidence in my play, which is more a testament to my coaches and my teammates. Their trust in me back there has given me more confidence in the job that I am doing.”
Westlake added that Morris and Williams are making his job—as well as the jobs of their teammates—easier. Williams said last week that the back four need to be able to pass the ball around and maintain possession while looking for an opportunity to attack, and the two rookies have shown themselves to be competent in that regard. The quick Williams frequently jumps into the offense himself, giving Columbia’s productive attackers yet another option for a pass.
The four do not have nearly the experience of playing together as, say, the trio of seniors starting on defense for defending Ivy champion Cornell, and there have been some growing pains. Westlake pointed to fouls as a problem against Brown, and said that more encouragement from teammates to be strong on the ball carrier without fouling would help. There were a few instances of miscommunication among the four backs leading to turnovers as well. Williams at one point was stripped of the ball in the Columbia defensive third by a Brown player he didn’t see, after which he looked quizzically at a teammate. Still, Westlake said the team would improve for its next game.
He said after the game, though, that the Light Blue’s communication to defend Brown attacks was good for most of the night.
“I think as a defensive unit, we have made immense strides in trying to develop a demanding yet enjoyable environment,” Westlake said. “We still have much more growth and learning to do, but it is a really great feeling to know that the player next to you will do anything for the player next to him.”
Columbia next plays Saturday night against Penn.