Last weekend against Metro State, the Fort Lewis College mens soccer team lost the one player it could least afford to lose to injury.
At least it seemed that way.
Since center defender Fabian Kling went down with a partially torn MCL and sprained ACL, the No. 1 Skyhawks have maintained the defensive form thats allowed them to lead the nation in team goals against average, pitching two shutouts, a streak theyll look to continue when they face the No. 18 Roadrunners again today.
Klings injury is less severe than initially projected and is expected to keep him out 2-6 weeks. In the meantime, outside back Berekk Blackwell has moved into Klings center back spot alongside Johannes Sander, while Artur Piperkov has flipped from the right side to the left. Grant Duke, who opened the season as the starting right back before shoulder issues plagued him, has moved back into his old familiar role. Midfielder Cory Dean has ascended to the captaincy in Klings absence.
Blackwell got a chance to play in the middle in spring exhibitions and said hes comfortable despite having an entirely new job description.
Its definitely different from playing left back where Ive been the last two years, he said. Its also familiar. My freshman and sophomore years I played a lot of center back.
The reorganized back four hasnt missed a beat, holding Colorado Mesa and UC-Colorado Springs to a total of 13 shots in a pair of 1-0 victories since Klings injury. The style of play and results continue to stay the same for Division IIs top side.
Were asking the whole back four to play the same way; I think that helps, FLC head coach Oige Kennedy said. You change the personnel, but the system hasnt changed.
After the Metro State game, Blackwell took Sander aside to discuss how to maintain a quality run of play with a new defensive partner. Sander had grown comfortable alongside Kling, who as a fellow German doesnt have the same language barrier issues that Blackwell does.
Its definitely hard because the language barriers a lot different, but throughout practice and stuff the last couple of days we had to bounce back from the Metro game pretty quick. ... We just kind of talked in the hotel and made sure we knew what we needed to do, Blackwell said.
Helping matters has been the continued steady play of goalkeeper Ryan Wirth, who earned his second Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference Defensive Player of the Week nod this week for earning shutouts against UCCS and Metro.
The lack of a dropoff speaks to the depth this years Skyhawk side possesses. FLC hasnt missed a beat so far without Kling and has navigated around the loss of freshman striker Kosta Kordistos, who suffered his own knee injury early in the season.
Kennedy thinks theres a strong chance both players will be available come NCAA Tournament time.
I think it speaks a lot to the training that weve done here in preparing every player to be able to play in our system, he said.