Before I started covering high school soccer in this area, I never understood the merits of the sweeper.
Outside of one season when I was 6 years old, I didn't play the sport growing up, not paying real close attention until the latter stages of my high school education before it exploded through my college years. During these past six years, I have paid most attention to professional soccer, and by the time I came around, the sweeper position had already became irrelevant, a symbol of the past.
Therefore, when I saw how many high school teams use a sweeper, I couldn't believe coaches still waste a player at such an archaic position.
The sweeper is normally a defender who doesn't have a specific marker or offensive player to cover, and he or she is meant to clean up the mistakes of the backline. Hence, why on lineup cards they are shown to be positionally behind the defenders, although sweepers don't necessarily play behind the backline. From the small sample size of sweepers in this area I've witnessed, they seem rooted behind their fellow defenders.
This differs greatly from the style I'm accustomed to seeing, which involves flat and often high backlines. These styles tend to use the offside rule as their friend, forcing opposing players to time attacking runs perfectly if they wish to get behind the defense. Although the risk of allowing a breakaway is high, a goalkeeper can fulfill the "sweeper role" by charging off the goal line and clearing off dangerous balls. With this defensive tactic in mind, the idea of sweeper seems counterproductive.
After watching the teams in this area, it makes sense as to why teams employ a sweeper. Goalkeepers don't tend to come off their lines and seem afraid of stepping outside of the penalty box, where they can no longer use their hands. This makes the tactic of a flat backline impossible to use, although the goal totals would soar if it is used.
To go along with this realization, witnessing one of the best defenders in the state, Champion's Jenna Parry, play a nearly flawless match at sweeper in the Golden Flashes' 1-1 tie against Lakeview on Monday changed my perception on the position.
The two-time all-Ohio defender showed why she earned first-team honors in 2012 by stymying Lakeview's striker duo of Alli Pavlik and Rachel Braunegg. Parry planted herself in the middle of the field to take away the through passes that put the Bulldogs' forwards on net, and whenever the two managed to get behind the defense, she won a tackle to clear the ball.
She was a major reason the Flashes held strong during the first half and kept it close in the second half before Amber Walker's equalizing goal in the 71st minute. She had a Man-of-the-Match performance.
Now, I can see the merits of using a sweeper on defense. While I'm not going to champion the position for all levels, at the high-school level, it's importance is justified.