You could say that Adam Singer's return to the Claremont-Mudd-Scripps men's soccer lineup this year has meant nothing. A lot of nothings.
Six games into the 2018 season, and the Stags, with Singer in his center back position again after missing all of last year with an injury, have yet to concede a goal on their way to a 6-0 start. The shutout streak is the longest in a single season for the program since the 2004 team rattled off seven clean sheets in a row.
Perhaps even more remarkable than the six straight shutouts has been the sheer lack of opportunities that the CMS opponents have had. Freshman goalie Jacob Mays has played every minute between the posts this year and still has a spotless 0.00 goals against average through six contests, yet has only made eight saves all season, a figure often surpassed in a single game.
As impressed as Singer is with the way that he and the defense have performed in the early going, he is cautious about allowing his team to be defined by the shutouts.
"I don't want to disclose it, but I have a little speech for the guys," said Singer, who is a team captain. "Basically, I don't want clean sheets to become our identity. Clean sheets are an outcome of what our identity is - hard work, organization, leadership. And I really just want to preach that to the guys, because as much as we'd like to keep the clean sheets going, we're bound to get scored on at some point, and I just don't want us to lose our path."
Merely returning to the lineup was only part of the equation for Singer, as he hadn't played with any of his defensive teammates in an official game before this year's opener. In addition to Mays holding down the goalie position as a freshman, the current cohorts for Singer on the back four are all sophomores: William Birchard, Nate Joseph and Kevin Proudfoot (freshman Grant Donaldson also began the year at center back next to Singer). The spring was a crucial time for the unit to come together, Singer believes, and then they were able to use the preseason to finish the process.
"I was healthy in the spring and we had a few games together, and lots of practices, so I got a good start building relationships there," Singer said. "This preseason we had lots of double days which really helped, and we're also really close off the field, which helps with team chemistry as well."
The center back's role often goes unnoticed by the casual fan, as there is almost no statistical measure to evaluate soccer defenders. Sometimes the best games by a central defender are ones where they aren't even noticed - they keep the defense organized so breakdowns are few, and spectacular defensive plays aren't even needed. Singer was named Defensive Player of the Week by the SCIAC on Monday without any stats of note, other than the team's defensive performance: only five shots allowed combined in two games, two of which were blocked, and only one of which was on net.
"A big part of my role, and Kevin's role too, is just leading the team from the back," Singer said. "We can see the entire field, so everyone expects us to tell people where to go and keep everyone's heads up, and then in terms of playing, just being a rock - winning tackles, winning headers, distributing nice and quick, and most importantly protecting our goalie."
Senior Aidan Johnson, who plays in front of the back four as a holding midfielder, has seen the benefit of having Singer's presence on the back line again this fall. "It's been amazing having him back this year. Last year we struggled because we didn't have his leadership on the back line. This year I feel much more comfortable in the midfield knowing that he's behind me, knowing that he's rooting me on and getting the team rallied up. It's just great having him back."
The season is still only three weeks old, and the Stags still have a lot of challenges ahead, including a home game with a potent offensive team in Whitter tomorrow at 7 p.m., which has scored nine goals in its last two games, and a matchup with fellow SCIAC unbeaten Redlands on the road on Saturday. A lot can happen between now and the end of the season, but after missing all of last year, Singer has found these first three weeks to be particularly rewarding.
"I can't almost put words to it, it's absolutely incredible," Singer said. "We started this way my freshman year, but this year I can say I'm a lot closer to the guys, just because I'm older and I've known them a little longer. And it's just absolutely amazing; we're soaring right now."