Defense leading to plenty of offense for No. 3 Rebels

2-0 victory over Andover moves Champlin Park to 6-0-1 mark in NWSC play

Champlin Park defender Logan Burchill heads a ball during the Rebels 2-0 victory at Andover Sept. 19. The Rebels have three regular season games yet to play. (Photo by Bill Jones – Contributing Photographer)

Champlin Park defender Logan Burchill heads a ball during the Rebels 2-0 victory at Andover Sept. 19. The Rebels have three regular season games yet to play. (Photo by Bill Jones – Contributing Photographer)

The statistical evidence is overwhelming. The success of the Champlin Park’s boys soccer season has been a direct result of the offensive numbers the Rebels continue to put up.

Undefeated through 10 games, and averaging a whopping 3.1 goals per outing, there is no denying the primary reason behind the Rebels ascent to a No. 3 state ranking in Class AA boys soccer.

But the method to such offensive madness has to start somewhere, and in the midst of what is arguably the best season – at least so far – in school history, it is becoming obvious where everything begins.

“We are a counter-attacking team,” said head coach Gavin Pugh, “and oftentimes that counter-attack begins with our backline.”

Equal part defenders and offensive igniters, the Rebels play on the back end has been every bit as impressive as what the team’s lethal group of scorers on the front end have produced.

For proof, look no further than a 120-second span of Champlin Park’s most recent Northwest Suburban Conference victory.

Stuck in a 0-0 draw on the road against Andover Sept. 19, defender Logan Burchill preserved the tie with an acrobatic bicycle kick on his own goal line that saved a sure goal for the Huskies.

Just over a minute and a half later, the Rebels netted the game’s first goal after a perfect set piece in which Jake O’Brien’s corner kick found Ramadan Hassan’s forehead.

Seventeen seconds later, Esteban Arias Arauz picked the lower right corner from 20-yards out to stake Champlin Park to a 2-0 advantage that would serve as the game’s final score.

The execution on both goal’s was highlight-reel quality, but afterwards, there was no denying the role Burchill’s  goal-saving, right-foot on the opposite end played in setting them up.

“That is kind of the way it has been working for us,” said Burchill. “Sometimes it takes a little longer for our offense to get going. But once they figure it out, they get in there and score goals. We just try and keep the ball out of our goal, and get it moving the other way as fast as we can.”

The results have been staggering. The Rebels offensive abilities have been well documented by now. But the defensive side is where Champlin Park appears to have separated itself from many of its peers.

The shutout at Andover last week was the team’s third straight, and other than a three-goal blip in the Rebels 4-3 victory at Osseo Sept. 4, Champlin Park has allowed more than one goal in a game just one other time this fall.

“The boys on the back have been resilient,” said Pugh. “They have done exactly what we’ve asked them to do.”

Heading into this week, that was to keep doing what’s been working, as well as the a request from the coaching staff to keep a clear mind and covered ears in regards to what lies ahead and what others are talking about.

The thought at the beginning of the season was six victories might be enough to claim a NWSC championship. The Rebels have already reached that number (6-0-1) in conference play, and through the Andover game last week, the team was 9-0-1 overall.

For many of their friends at school, that has transitioned their conversations from the possibility of winning a conference championship to the hope of contending for a Class AA state title.

But the noise is such that the players say they can tune it out.

“Really, we just ignore the talk,” Burchill said.

Champlin Park midfielder Jake Aronson tangles with Andover’s Emmanuel Ekunseitan for a ball during the Rebels 2-0 victory in Andover Sept. 19. The win improved Champlin Park to a perfect 6-0-1 in the Northwest Suburban Conference, and 9-0-1 overall. (Photo by Bill Jones – Contributing Photographer)

Champlin Park midfielder Jake Aronson tangles with Andover’s Emmanuel Ekunseitan for a ball during the Rebels 2-0 victory in Andover Sept. 19. The win improved Champlin Park to a perfect 6-0-1 in the Northwest Suburban Conference, and 9-0-1 overall. (Photo by Bill Jones – Contributing Photographer)

The coach echoed the thought.

“Everyday there is some kind of grumbling about what someone is saying,” Pugh said. “They are very aware of it, but they keep a hat on it. It is really just hype and talk and rumors. Very few teams have been out to see us play, so we are head-down and just focusing on our own game. That is how it has been since the start, and there is no reason to change now.”

Time likely wouldn’t allow it anyways. The regular season is down to just three games – at Coon Rapids Sept. 27, vs. Elk River Oct. 2 and at Blaine Oct. 4 – and all three are going to be critical if the Rebels are to hang onto what, despite their head-turning season thus far, is still only a one-game lead over Blaine and Park Center in the NWSC standings.

“We still have a lot of work to do,” Pugh said. “They are enjoying it. I can tell. There is a lot of bubble about the camp. But they want to win this conference, so that is how they want to finish.”

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