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Blais proving key to Bulls chances in Big East

Despite some early offensive success, the defensive line clearly determines the fate of the men’s soccer team.

The team has played nine games this season and has a 5-2-2 record. In most cases, the defensive side of the stat sheet reveals how the Bulls fared in each game.

Coming into the season, the young Bulls had plenty of questions, the largest of which was the hole left by All-American goalkeeper Jeff Attinella. After his illustrious career with the Bulls, Attinella moved on to FC Tampa Bay, leaving arguably the most vital position on the team empty.

Chris Blais, a 6-foot-4 graduate student, took the reigns of the Bulls’ defense after transferring from Michigan, and began the season trying to create his niche in Attinella’s shadow. Blais started impressively, building his confidence with two clean sheets and only allowing one goal in the first three games of the year. However, it wasn’t surprising to see his production drop as the first half of the season wore on. In two games this season against ranked opponents, Blais has yet to allow a goal. He’ll face his third tonight as the Bulls take on No. 25 Florida Gulf Coast in Fort Myers tonight.

It seemed like the pressure of living up to Attinella’s reputation finally got to Blais when the Bulls went through a rough patch in early September, yielding seven goals in three games against Bradley, Dartmouth and St. Louis. Despite the fact that Blais seemed visibly shaken, coach George Kiefer insisted that the blame could not be placed on the goalkeeper.

Kiefer admitted to meeting with Blais before their game against undefeated UC Irvine. The Bulls won that game 2-0, giving Blais his third clean sheet of the year and getting the team another win over a nationally-ranked program.

“Chris has been working really hard,” Kiefer said after the UC Irvine game. “We put him in some tough situations the last couple of games. Sometimes, if you stop having success, you’ll lose your swagger. But we met separately with Chris, and he looks back on track.”

It can be argued that Blais is the team’s most vital player, even though junior forward Dom Dwyer may be the star with seven goals in his first nine games of Division I play. When Blais and his defense allow one goal or fewer, the Bulls are undefeated at 5-0-1, while if he allows multiple goals, the Bulls are winless, at 0-2-1.

The Bulls are in a great position to make another tournament run, sitting at 1-0-1 in the Big East with seven conference games remaining. They’ll get a break from conference action tonight at 7.