Keeping 'Eaters unstained

The soccer term for shutouts is clean sheets and the UC Irvine men's team has been determined detergent this season.

The Anteaters (5-0), ranked No. 8 by College Soccer News, have matched the best start in program history by setting a school record with five straight shutouts.

Junior goalkeeper Andrew Fontein was the National Soccer Coaches Assn. of America's national player of the week last week, and with 14 career shutouts, his next pristine performance will make him the UCI career leader. His 0.83 career goals-against average already ranks No. 1 in school annals and Coach George Kuntz has said the three-year starter's ability to make scoring threats disappear is nothing short of magical.

But there is more than mystique behind this year's complete lack of concession, beginning, most notably, with the four-player unit that lines up in front of Fontein.

Senior outside back Corey Attaway is the team captain and comes into today's 1 p.m. nonconference contest at Sacramento State with 49 career starts. His three goals this season are one more than he had in his previous three seasons combined and tie him for the team lead in 2010 with senior forward Spencer Thompson.

Junior outside back Jimmy Turner, who has 31 career starts, has the only goal of his career this season and along with Attaway provides the back line with two players adept at joining the attack.

Senior center back Joel Bagby, a beast at 6-foot-4, 200 pounds, is an imposing presence who has also posted his only goal this season.

And sophomore center back Everett Pitts, a 6-2 speedster who is considered the team's No. 1 cover defender, rounds out a group that has helped the Anteaters post a 41-14 advantage in shots on goal this season.

In addition, defensive midfielder Gray Bailey, a senior with 55 career starts, is an honorary member of the back line and among those credited by coaches and defenders alike for his vital role in UCI's laundry operation.

"[Bailey] is part of the back line in our mind," Attaway said.

"All of them have done special things for this team," Kuntz said. "They bring a nice balance of experience, youth, tenacity, size and speed. I think it has been a nice blend at the back."

The back line is justifiably proud of its zero tolerance thus far. But, not atypical for those charged with defusing attackers, they are quick to use caution when it comes to maintaining their collective vigilance. And humility is another common theme.

"It's not a perfect blend, but it's a good blend," Turner said. "You're never going to have perfection, but it's nice to be close to it. We are all working hard to keep that zero, but our main focus is getting one game at a time and getting through that whole 90 minutes. You can't win games unless you keep goals out of the net."

Attaway is one of several defenders to praise the team's holistic approach to defense, something Kuntz has emphasized also.

"The defense gets a lot of praise and recognition for what's been happening, but really the team should be getting most of it," Attaway said. "Defense is a team thing and it starts from the top and filters down through everyone else. If one player on the field isn't playing defense, it stands out pretty blatantly."

Added Turner: "We don't want to be thought of as separate entities, like an attacking five and a defending five. We want to be considered as a whole, as 11 men on the field going out there to defend and attack as a group."

Attaway said Fontein clearly stands out as the last line of defense.

"He was a godsend for us two years ago [when he emerged as the Big West Conference Co-Freshman of the Year, and the conference tournament MVP to help lead the 'Eaters to the program's first Big West crown and first NCAA Tournament appearance]," Attaway said. "He's one of the best shot-stoppers I've ever seen. If the defense does break down and [the opponent] gets that shot, he's good for two or three big saves a game, at least. That gives us all more freedom and obviously more confidence as a back four. That confidence also goes through the whole team."

Fontein said confidence will remain, regardless of if, or when, the shutout streak is snapped.

"Confidence is good and it's important," Fontein said. "But even if we weren't having all these shutouts, my mind would be in the same place. I have a certain expectation for myself and for everyone in front of me. Say we lose a game, 5-0, that doesn't change a single thing for me. As long as we keep peaking and not hit a wall, we should continue to play well."

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