Playing spoiler: Rieger might not make highlights, but integral to success
As a defender, junior Chris Rieger, of the Washington University men’s soccer team, is used to his performance not making the highlight reel or being reflected on the stat sheet. But—as someone who has played center back his whole life—that suits Rieger just fine.
“It’s not about the glory of scoring a goal, but the glory of ruining someone’s day,” Rieger said. “That sounds negative, but, at the same time, as a defender you’re stopping someone from doing what they want to do, so that you can do what you want to do, and that’s going to ruin their day.”
That mentality has pervaded across the starting back line—senior Kevin Goon, junior Nick Knight and junior Andrew Zingone—for the three years that they’ve played together, and it’s brought them closer together.
“The back line is very much its own little family because we’re very used to not getting the glory on things,” Rieger said. “It’s not for us; it’s for the team.”
The back line’s continuity and chemistry has propelled the Bears to a 7-1-1 record so far this season. And for once, it’s shown up in the box score. The Red and Green began the season without conceding a goal for 554 minutes as part of six consecutive shutout victories, and they now allow just 0.56 goals per game on average. In particular, Rieger—a regular starter since his freshman year—has been a key driver behind the defense’s success.
“I always said that he has the potential to be one of the best center backs in the nation—if he’s not there already,” Goon said. “He does things that really go unnoticed because he’s a defender. And that’s kind of how you want it to be, but, at the same time, he can shut down a forward. We’ve seen it before, especially last year. A couple forwards who were All-Americans—he completely took them off their game, which was huge for us.”
Although the defense has benefitted from playing together at Francis Field for three years, a recent off-season experience has also paid big dividends for Rieger and the team’s back line. Rieger and Goon, who both received all-University Athletic Associations honors last season, were selected to play for the USA Division III team that toured Brazil last summer. After a week of training, the team played three games against local clubs in Brazil, posting a 1-1-1 record.
“Playing in Brazil definitely helped us on the field a bunch and translating that to this season has been nice. It was another two weeks of playing competitive soccer together, so it definitely paid off,” Goon said.
The USA team played against club teams from all across Brazil, but they all had one thing in common: a confident playing style.
“Each player had more heart than I did in the game, and not to say that I don’t love soccer, but soccer to me is a sport, whereas soccer to them is a way of life,” Rieger said. “When someone has that type of willpower in a game, it’s very intimidating.”
According to Rieger, the different playing style posed a unique challenge, but it was also an important learning experience that put the upcoming season in perspective.
“It was a learning experience for me because I don’t really think I played that well, and I didn’t get as many minutes as I’m normally used to,” Rieger said. “It changed from me going through the motions to fighting for something, and now that I see some seniors who are leaving this year, I’m fighting for this season because we have a lot of great seniors who are helping out.”
Hailing from Los Angeles, Rieger has played soccer since the first grade. The most formative years in his development as a player, though, were during his time as a member of a club team in middle school and high school. By his senior year, the club team was ranked second in the country, with most of his teammates going on to play for NCAA Division I schools.
Despite receiving scholarship offers from a few Division I schools, Rieger chose to narrow his search to Division III schools because of the level of freedom it provided for student-athletes. He settled on Wash. U. because of head coach Joe Clarke, the school’s financial aid and, yes, the coveted Tempur-Pedic mattresses.
“The fact that you have a roof over your head is great, but if I could play for a school that offered good dorms and good financial aid outside of soccer, [that] was the best choice,” Rieger said.
After committing to Wash. U., Rieger found out that Knight, another center back from the Los Angeles area who he had played against for eight years, was going to be his teammate.
“Once we learned that we were both going to Wash. U., we were so excited,” Rieger said. “We were freshmen coming in, and we didn’t even know if we’d get playing time, but some seniors just graduated, and that opened the door for us to start our four years already starting, which was huge for our confidence and being part of the team culture and playing style.”
The teammates share another special bond outside the classroom—they DJ together.
“We’ll go to practice from 7:30 to 10, and then right after, [we’ll] run over to my car, get dressed, and then we’ll go over to a club and DJ,” Rieger said.
The duo has some traction, playing at both Greek life events and local clubs around St. Louis.
But as much fun as Rieger provides on the dance floor, he takes away in equal measure on the field.
“Whenever we go into a huddle I will say, ‘let’s ruin someone’s week,’” Rieger said. “You know, maybe they had a good week—they came out for this game, but I’m going to make it so that their bus ride home is not going to be as fun as they wanted.”