The vocal leaders on Osbourn Park's defense, such as seniors Phil Purdy and Cullen McKenzie, enabled the Yellow Jackets' boys' soccer team to switch this season to an alignment featuring four defenders instead of three. So far, the change has worked magnificently.
The four-back formation worked again Friday night for the second-ranked Yellow Jackets, who earned their seventh shutout of the season by defeating Forest Park, 1-0, on a misty night in Manassas.
Forest Park defender Joe Skertic goes up and over Osbourn Park's Alex Foskett, who was trying to keep the ball inbounds Friday during the Yellow Jackets' 1-0 win. The Bruins had a goal that was disallowed in the second half.
(Photos Jonathan Ernst For The Washington Post)
"The back four has helped us all year so far," Purdy said. "At the beginning of the year, a lot of the guys were kind of doubting it, but in the games it has been working perfectly."
In the preceding girls' game, No. 6 Forest Park defeated the Yellow Jackets, 5-0.
Osbourn Park's boys (10-0) had allowed only three goals all season entering Friday's match, so when Yellow Jackets senior Tyler Felch scored in the 11th minute, the Bruins knew they were in trouble. Forest Park (3-4-3) threatened in the second half -- and even had a goal disallowed -- but Osbourn Park's defense withstood the surge.
"Forest Park still pressured us a lot," Purdy said. "Getting that one-goal lead takes a little bit of pressure off the back, but it's still not fully off."
Yellow Jackets Coach Larry Nemerow created his team's four-back system before the season partly because he believed he had the personnel to make it successful.
"In some of our recent years, where we've had pretty good teams but didn't have verbal captains in the back, we couldn't play this system," Nemerow said. "If you don't communicate in the back, and either you play too flat or you leave a lane, you get abused."
Purdy, Nemerow says, fuels the system with his leadership.
"I can't remember ever seeing anybody in high school who plays with the quality he has in the back in my 14 years of coaching boys' soccer," Nemerow said. "He's just sure. He's 100 percent. When you look at him walking in the halls, he's a little smart kid that gets A's in math class. When you see him on the field, he's winning balls against kids that are three, four, five inches taller than him."
Osbourn Park starting goalkeeper Chris Dykstra has missed the last seven games because of mononucleosis, making the squad's defensive accomplishments this season even more impressive.
The Yellow Jackets were clinging to their one-goal lead late in the second half when McKenzie and Purdy were sidelined by a yellow card and an ankle injury, respectively. In the 68th minute, with both players ready to return, Bruins midfielder Brady Williams blasted a shot from 20 yards out past Osbourn Park goalkeeper Garrett Murphy. The head referee signaled a goal, but a linesman waved it off, saying Bruins forward Chris Thome was offside and interfering with the goalkeeper.
"I think it was a good goal," said Forest Park Coach Ken Krieger, who confronted the officials after the game. "I think Osbourn Park saw it was a good goal, and I think they had a little bit of reprieve when the linesman put his flag up. The linesman had no angle on it."