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Stout defense leads charge for men’s soccer

Georgia State men’s soccer goalkeeper Paul Tyson reaches for a save during practice Oct. 2 at the GSU Soccer Complex Photo by Chris Young | The Signal

In sports, one thing is certain: defense travels. And for the Georgia State men’s soccer team, that has been their calling card this season.

The Panthers are one of the best teams in the Sun Belt Conference and are at the very top on the defensive end.

Offenses sell tickets, but defenses wins championships, unless it’s against the Golden State Warriors. Fortunately for the Panthers, they won’t face an offense like that. But even if they did, there is a good chance they would fair well with the defense they have.

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Leading the charge in the back is Kyle Clinton, Alex Summerfield, Liam Fitzsimmons and a list of other defenders who help the team go.

“I put myself in a position that’s going to help me, and I’d like to think the guy next to me does the same thing, just to help out his other teammates around,” Clinton said. “I don’t get scared if I pass them the ball, I trust that they’re going to do something with the ball. If they do end up missing a tackle or something, they know that I’m there and I’d want the same. If I get beaten, I’d want my teammates there.”

That kind of trust has allowed the team to have success over the past few years and even this season when they ripped off six wins in a row before dropping a match to Santa Clara. The stingy defense allowed two goals in the loss, and it was not happy about it.

The Panthers pride themselves on getting what they call cleans, sheets and shutouts. So far this year, the Panthers have pitched three shutout performances and have allowed one run in two of their losses. With more performances like that, it will be easy for the Panthers to make it back to the Sun Belt Championship.

This season, the Panthers are allowing .78 goals per game, which is tied for first in the conference. Goalie Paul Tyson has saved 28 shots while only allowing 7 for a .800 save percentage.

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Those are good numbers, especially from the anchor on the defensive end. Tyson has only played goalie five years. He began at the age of 16 when his high school coach asked him to play on a serious level. At that point, Tyson only played recreationally.

“I was more of a track athlete and a cross country runner, and a kickboxer. It’s quite unusual,” Tyson said. “Obviously, I worked very hard as soon as I knew I wanted to play in goal. Although it was late, I dedicated my life to it and just applied myself to be best of my abilities and tried my best to make the best of what I had.”

Prior to attending Georgia State, Tyson attended Saint Jacinto College, but he only ended up there because of a delayed decision to attend Georgia State. He was sent to the junior college for a year where he played and developed. Now, he is a force for the Panthers at 6 feet, 7 inches tall.

It also helps to have well-experienced defensemen on the backend. Fitzsimmons and Clinton are two of the best in the conference at their position. Both of them have been named to the All-Sun Belt team before.

“We know how each other play,” Clinton said. “We’ve been playing together for like some time. Liam has been here for three years, so we’re pretty experienced at the back.”

But also making impacts this season are George Proctor, Alex Summerfield and Tyson. All three have been named the Sun Belt Defensive Player of the Week this season.

In the week that Summerfield won Defensive Player of the Week, he scored the game-winning goal to help the Panthers secure a 1-0 victory of Mercer.

“It was good; it always feels good to get recognized for what you do,” Summerfield said. “It was nice to get the goal that ended up being the game winner.”

During the preseason, Clinton was one of 32 Division I players named to the Missouri Athletic Club (MAC) Hermann Trophy watch list. The MAC Hermann trophy is awarded to the top men’s and women’s soccer player in the country.

“I’m probably most proud of my nomination this year,” Clinton said. “It’s 32 people out of every men’s soccer program in the country. I’ve got to be impressing other countries around the country.”

Along with being named to the watch list, Clinton is a two-time All-Sun Belt First Team member. He was also the 2017 Sun Belt Defensive Player of the Year.

“I’m not the quickest of players, so I kind of try to use my head more in the game,” Clinton said. “I try to learn cues of what the attackers are going to do so that I can put myself in a position where I’m not running against them. I can win the ball or slow them down to help my teammates get back.”

Aside from just having good players, the Panthers are also smart when it comes to the game of soccer. They know that they aren’t always going to be the best athletes on the field, but they help make up for that in other ways.

“We work a lot on shape; we work a lot on preparing for what our opposition is going to be like,” Tyson said. “We’re always prepared going into every game. Each person knows their role, and we perform to the best of our abilities. We work as a collective unit very well, so it works out nicely for us.”

For several years now the Panthers have prided themselves on clean sheets and playing excellent defense, and things are no different with the current group.

“I don’t think we’ve been our best, but we’ve got results when we needed them, we’ve found ways to get wins,” Summerfield said. “We’ve been a hard team to break down for opponents, but I think we’ve still got a lot more to give and I think as the season goes on we can still play better and still get better as a team.”

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