There's an old saying, "You can never lose a soccer game if you don't let your opponent score."
Butler University has taken hold of that adage, merged it with "To win you have to score one more goal than your opponent" and now stands as the last undefeated, untied NCAA Division I program.
The Bulldogs have won their past three games by one goal each -- two in overtime -- and have six one-goal wins in this season's 10-0 start.
"We have a strong group of seniors that are making key plays when we need to make them," said Butler coach Kelly Findley, summing up the team's season in a single sentence.
A trio of seniors -- Ben Sippola, Kyle Pateros and Connor Burt -- has combined for 10 goals and seven assists, while senior keeper Fabian Knopfler has allowed only five goals and posted five shutouts this season.
Findley said the team's success rests heavily on the defensive unit. "Quality defending puts us in a situation to win every game we're in," he said.
Junior Matt Hedges, who is receiving early MLS interest, and seniors Burt and Brett Heinz, along with Jared Isenthal and Jamie Vollmer, are the team's top defenders. Through 10 matches, the Butler defense, primarily comprised of local products, has required Knopfler to make only 22 saves.
While the defense is home grown, Butler's top offensive threats have a common thread as well: They are products of Shattuck-St. Mary's, a Minnesota high school with a soccer academy. Sippola, the first Shattuck player to suit up for Butler, has a team-best six goals and five assists. Adekunle Oluyedun, a freshman, is the team's second-leading scorer with four goals and two assists. Julian Cardona, who was the conference's freshman of the year in 2009, has a pair of game-winning goals.
While it's easy to point at numbers to back Butler's success, it might be fitness that is truly making the difference. The Bulldogs have outscored their opponents 13-2 in the second half and hold a nearly three-to-one margin in second-half corner kicks.
"Teams are defending well against us and it's taking a little bit of time, but when we're able to wear teams down, we still have enough fitness and quality to snap back," Findley said. "We pride ourselves on having quality possessions and when you make a team chase for 45 minutes there's going to be more gaps and spaces that open up in the second half. Our fitness level is really high, and I think we get stronger as the game goes on."
Around the nation
Rough ending: For 45 minutes, Alabama A&M looked as though it might close out the program with a victory, but it slipped away as Virginia Tech scored three second-half goals in a 4-2 decision Monday night in Blacksburg, Va. Alabama A&M is disbanding the men's soccer team following the 2010 season, one in which the team finished 0-10 playing as an independent. Alabama A&M led 2-1 at halftime on goals by Abraham Kassaye and Kayle Majors. Koen Oost evened the score for the Hokies in the 58th minute before Mikey Minutillo scored twice, once in the 63rd and again in the 66th minute. A&M is only two years removed from a nine-win season. Alabama A&M's next-to-last game was one they would like to forget, a 10-0 loss to the University of Virginia. Brian Ownby, Will Bates and Ahkeel Rodney each scored twice for the Cavaliers and Bates added a pair of assists. The 10 goals in the highest single-game output for the Cavs since 1989 and one goal shy of the school record set in 1971 and matched in 1981.
Quick score: Will Van Noppen of Division II Clark University is making headlines -- and history. The sophomore from Providence, R.I., scored after a touch on the opening kickoff -- four seconds into a match with Wheaton College, equaling the NCAA Division III record for fastest goal at the start of a match. Although Clark lost the contest 2-1, the play, captured by a fan on video, earned Van Noppen No. 2 billing on the "SportsCenter" Play of the Day segment last Wednesday. Van Noppen scored four seconds into the second half of a match earlier in the season, which also got him a Play of the Day mention. Now, with two goals from the center circle, Van Noppen said a third is highly unlikely. "I don't think it's going to happen again," Van Noppen told the Worcester Telegram & Gazette. "I didn't even think it was going to happen the second time. I was actually surprised it happened at all. I think a third time would be a little much to ask for. I think they'll be ready for it now."
Recruiting road: It has been surprisingly quiet on the recruiting trail this week, but one of the more interesting moves was J.P. Correa on Montville, N.J., switching his pledge from Villanova to Rutgers. Unlike some sports in which changing verbals occurs with some frequency, soccer players seldom do an about-face. Correa told the Newark Star-Ledger his reason for the switch was to stay closer to home at a program he feels could be on the rebound since the hiring of a new coach. Tyler Leeman, from Oakdale, Conn., verbally committed to UConn on Monday. The sharpshooter who plays club soccer for Oakwood SC scored 28 goals for his high school team last fall.
For the latest verbal commitment information, visit ESPNRISE.com.
Sheldon Shealer is the soccer editor of ESPNRISE.com, ESPN's high school sports site.