There have been many contributing factors to the Lions’ run to the 2020 Audi MLS Cup Playoffs. The one that might be the least talked about however is the Club’s defensive performance throughout the year.
While the success on the offensive side of the ball is heavily apparent on paper, with Oscar Pareja’s group averaging 1.74 goals per game to set a Club single-season record, the defense has made arguably an even more impressive jump.
The Lions’ backline has allowed just 1.09 goals per game through 23 matches played, shattering the previous record of 1.53. As a unit, the defense conceded multiple times in a match just three times in the regular-season, registering four shutouts on the year.
“I see the group all the time with the commitment of getting better and the defenders know, everybody, the collective, the defensive side of our team,” Pareja said of his defense. “They understand that they will get us through and we will get points. Sometimes one and many times, three. They understand their role that they have and no matter who is playing is giving us that confidence.”
Eight different members of the side have comprised the very collective that Pareja has alluded to, with the Lions’ head coach rolling out numerous combinations at the back throughout the campaign in an effort to keep the group fresh with a condensed schedule.
Two of his most prominent figures, however, have been his first choice center backs - Robin Jansson and Antonio Carlos.
Jansson, now in his second season with the Club, appeared in all but one match for the Lions this year, playing every minute of his 22 appearances to lead the side in minutes played. His counterpart, signed by the Lions ahead of the 2020 campaign, made 20 appearances this season, scoring one goal and adding an assist to contribute on the offensive end as well.
The duo sits atop the squad in nearly every defensive category, holding the top two spots in blocks, clearances and interceptions, while also leading the side in successful passes.
While the speed in which the two have developed their connection at the back has been impressive enough, what makes it all the more remarkable is the fact that they do not speak the same language, with Jansson speaking Swedish and English while Antonio Carlos is fluent in Portuguese.
“Antonio [Carlos] has been a great company for Robin [Jansson]. All of our defenders have upgraded their game and the most important is that they have been working together. They are gelling together, they’re getting more connections and understanding more their responsibility as a group,” Pareja said of the connections at the back. “Understanding is a big part of our games that they have that solidness and they have that balance. It’s about us just growing in those relationships and they’re doing a great job indeed.
“We have to recognize our defensive players as well. I believe that our players have done a tremendous defensive job, they have balanced us and have brought us all the way here so they deserve all the recognition."