For Real Salt Lake-AZ defender Isaias Juarez, the challenge is not in simply waiting for the action to come to him, but in engaging the offense to end the threat before it can truly become one.
"Defensively, I'm pretty confident, even when I'm isolated trying to defend against a guy. That's when the juices start to flow," said Juarez, whose under-15/16 squad leads the West Conference SoCal Division with a mark of 6-1 (12-3-2 overall). "Offensively, [I enjoy] being able to attack and dribble around a guy and get by him. Those are probably two of the situations where I feel comfortable and where I feel that I can show my strengths."
Juarez's mentality epitomizes the style of play that is encouraged by Real Salt Lake coach Martin Vasquez, according to assistant Anthony Bruce.
"Basically, we're a possession-oriented team. We very seldom punt the ball or execute [long] goal kicks," Bruce said. "We like to play out of the back and try to hold onto the ball and play it that way."
It is for that reason that Real Salt Lake has relied on sure-footed, cerebral strategists Juarez and Santi Carrillo as well as central defenders Jonathan Stadler and Corey Nemeth in front of goalies Cesar Cobos and Benjamin Machini.
"We like to go to our wing backs and our fullbacks, and we like them to go forward and to assist in the attack. And they're all pretty good at doing that," Bruce said. "They're very good at playing the ball into the midfield for players like the kid we have in Andrew Brody, who has scored a lot of goals for us."
That was the case in last Saturday's 4-0 shutout of Crossfire Premier during which Brody scored three times and midfielder Trevor Hyman once. Brody is the team's top scorer with eight goals, followed by forward Jose Navarro with seven, Hyman with four, Jordan Allen with three, and two from forward Benjamin Lopez, who often sees action on Real Salt Lake's under-17/18 squad.
But it all starts with players such as Juarez, who represent the last line of the defense and, often, the beginning of the offense.
"Specifically, for me, it's just making sure that I'm defending well and staying connected with the rest of the team in the back," Juarez said. "It's not only playing well defensively but also doing as much as I can throughout the game and not just sitting back the whole time."
Last weekend's matches:
Texas SC Houston 2, Dallas Texans 0: Bryan Estrada and Emmanuel Usen converted in the 10th and 80th minutes as second-place Texas SC Houston (8-5-3, 11-6-4) overcame the first-place Dallas Texans (10-1-4, 12-1-7) on Sunday.
Dallas Texans 3, Texas SC Houston 1: Goals by James Hickey, Jamie Jasso and Reis Woolley staked the fourth-place Texans (5-4-6, 7-5-8) to an early lead as Houston (8-3-5, 11-3-7) prevented a shutout with a goal by Timothy Lagrimas in the 90th minute on Sunday.
FC Dallas 1, Indiana United Fire Academy 1: Thomas Sanner's goal in the seventh minute gave the lead to the fifth-place Indiana United Fire Academy (0-0, 2-1-2) of the Great Lakes Division, but Bobby Edet scored the equalizer in the 28th minutes to salvage the game for the first-place FC Dallas (13-1-1, 16-1-3) of Texas Division on Sunday.