Article by Sam Horn, Sports Editor

There’s a sense of confidence in John Yorke. The man who has led the Pacific Lutheran men’s soccer team to six top-three Northwest Conference finishes in his 12-year coaching career is back at it again.

“I’m confident that we can win the Northwest Conference,” Yorke said. “I believe we have the ability and the potential to win it.

Yorke has reason to be confident. His soccer team is off to an unprecedented start in the 2013 season. The team has already played six games and boasts a record of five wins and one draw.

There are multiple factors that have led to the team’s success. One of those factors is on defense, where the Lutes have looked impenetrable. Throughout six games this season, the Lutes have only allowed two goals, and one came courtesy of a penalty kick.

Goalkeeper Joe Rayburn, a senior, said he is content with his defenders. The backline has helped out Rayburn so he doesn’t have to make many acrobatic saves. One defender, senior Jeff Piaquadio, was named the NWC Defensive Student-Athlete of the Week when the Lutes recorded two shutouts during the week of Sept. 2-8 against Wisconsin Lutheran and Evergreen State.

Center back Jeff Piaquadio tries to steal the ball from a Hardin-Simmons attacker on Sept. 14.
Center back Jeff Piaquadio, a senior, tries to steal the ball from a Hardin-Simmons attacker on Sept. 14.  Picture by Thomas Soerenes.

“I can’t really do what I do without a solid backline in front of me,” Rayburn said.  “The defenders make me look good.”

Rayburn said being a goalkeeper isn’t a one-dimensional position. It’s not always about making the awe-inspiring save that makes soccer fans jump out of their seats and spill their popcorn.

Rayburn has to be a point guard at his position, because he can see the entire field and has the ability to tell his teammates where to go in order to get a shot on goal.

“It’s really less about one individual. The individual awards come and go as they will, but individual awards don’t really mean anything unless they have the bigger team accomplishments to back it up,” Rayburn said.

In the past two years, PLU hasn’t been known for their steadfast defense.  Through the Lutes’ first four games last year, they had already conceded seven goals. In 2011, PLU allowed six goals through during their first six games of the season. The numbers don’t lie, but the Lutes are set on conceding fewer goals this year.

“I would say we have gotten off to a faster start, more so defensively,” Rayburn said. “We’ve looked way sharper in the back four this year than we have in my previous three years in goal.”

Not only has the defense looked stellar for the Lutes, but their offense is a fully-functioning machine. They have been pumping out goals in every match so far this season.

Forward Derek Johnson, a senior, has already scored five goals in six games thus far. Johnson is on pace to shatter his career-high goal tally of nine he achieved during his junior year. After displaying what he can do on the offensive side of the ball, Johnson received the NWC Offensive Student-Athlete of the Week honor for Sept. 2-8.

Derek Johnson gears up to rip a shot on goal against Hardin-Simmons.
Senior Derek Johnson gears up to rip a shot on goal against Hardin-Simmons. Photo by Thomas Soerenes.

In addition to Johnson, another catalyst for the Lutes’ offense is center forward Giancarlo Santoro. Santoro, a senior, has scored four goals and tallied three assists in six games.

PLU has had a reputation for producing quality attackers in the past. In 2011, when the team won the Northwest Conference, PLU had two goal-scoring threats in Chad Kearns and Spencer Augustin. Augustin scored 19 goals in 2011 and Kearns complemented Augustin’s feat with 13 goals of his own. Now that those two players have graduated, Santoro is trying to fill their shoes.

“Over the last few years, we’ve lost a lot of good goal scorers. I need to step in and fill in for them,” Santoro said. “I’m just to trying to push myself as hard as I can.”

As this is Santoro’s last year on the PLU squad, he said he wants to make the most out of this opportunity. “I’m just trying to be positive and work for the team,” Santoro said. He said he wants to make sure the team does well, and “winning conference, collectively, is obviously the biggest goal.”

Forward Giancarlo Santoro moves up the wing to get the offense into attacking position against Hardin-Simmons.
Forward Giancarlo Santoro, a senior, moves up the wing to get the offense into attacking position against Hardin-Simmons.  Photo by Thomas Soerenes.

Santoro has definitely salvaged his opportunity to be on the PLU men’s soccer team. He and Johnson have helped the Lutes score 15 goals in six games.

Rigoberto Loreto, a first-year, has also made an impact on the team. He is third on the team with three goals.

Winning the Northwest Conference has been the focal point this year in the minds of the coaches and players alike. With a threatening offense that can score at any moment and a defense that will try to shut down any opponent, the team has the resume to accomplish the feat. Winning the NWC won’t come easily though.

Pacific University is the only other undefeated team in the NWC. Standing at 4-0, Pacific has scored 11 goals in four games. Forward Ian Farley leads the Boxers in scoring with four goals.

Despite being in the same conference as Pacific, Yorke remained unfazed about his team’s chances to win the NWC. “We have that something special to win this conference,” Yorke said. “I think that any team that wins the conference has to be a little bit special.” Though Yorke said the conference is challenging, he also said, “I’m confident that we have the recipe for success to actually win the Northwest Conference.”

The Lutes venture into conference play when they tangle with George Fox on Saturday at 2:30 p.m. and Pacific on Sunday at 2:30 p.m.

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