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Taking Advantage of Being The No. 1

Tough to say and even tougher to spell, Carl Woszczynski may become a household name in the Valley of the Sun.

Less than five minutes into Arizona United's 1-0 win over the Austin Aztex, the home side had the match's first real scoring opportunity.

It looked something like this:

Most teams would take that arrangement less than 50 yards from the net. But seconds later that ideal set up looked like this:

That's Carl Woszczynski decisively coming off his line and smothering the ball before the attack went any further. Here's the whole sequence in moving pictures:

Sure, Austin could've done a bit better there, but Woszczynski ensured the Aztex wouldn't get another pass off.

Outside of being forced onto their heels early in matches, Woszczynski's goalkeeping has been the most consistent part of an Arizona United match early in the season. And it's a major reason the team earned nine out of 12 points in four road trips to begin the year.

"It's huge for us," said Arizona captain Rob Valentiono. "Obviously we'd like for him to do less in a game. .. We haven't had the best starts to games recently and we want to try and eliminate that and Carl's been great. He's just taking the confidence and running with it every game.

Added head coach Michael Dellorusso: "He's been good. He's been asked to make one or two big saves a game, which any keeper will be and he's done it. I think we put ourself in that situation, but at the end of the day he's done what he needed to do."

Prior to last weekend's 3-0 loss to OC Blues FC, Woszczynski allowed just two goals in three matches. One of the goals was the result of a defensive miscue which left the Columbus, Indiana-native out to dry with little chance of stopping a shot. His other goal was the result of an excellent finish from Galaxy II's Bradford Jamieson IV, which would've been difficult for most keepers.

Those performances, combined with his clean sheet against Austin, gave Arizona plenty of momentum going into its match with Orange County last Saturday, even though the team still wasn't playing as well as the players and coaches knew it could.

As Valentino pointed out, some of those early saves in the club's three wins really jumpstarted the other ten players on the field.

"Think about it: whether it's somebody making a big save, or somebody making a big tackle or a great pass, it kind of lifts the team's spirit a little bit," Valentino said. "We'd like to eliminate those things for Carl, and make it a little bit easier but he's earning his paycheck and we're happy about that."

Said Woszczynski: "It gets your adrenaline going early. It gets you in the game. If you're called on right from the first whistle, it helps you be involved throughout the game."

Woszczynski's shutout streak ended against the Blues in a 3-0 loss, but he still stood out, making several key saves early to keep the match scoreless, including this 1v1, which is kind of ruined by the transition, but you get the idea:

"Me and the goalkeeper coach have talked about it; to be ready from the opening whistle and to get good warmups in so we're sharp from the jump," Woszczynski said.

And Woszczynski's decisiveness is helpful to the defenders ahead of him as well.

"It helps us to know that if a ball does get played behind, he's either coming or he's staying," Valentino said. "He's making his decision and makes it early and he communicates it. He (comes) off his line and dominates his box and with his size, there's no reason he shoudn't.

Even a tough 3-0 loss won't bring Woszczynski down. This season he's back in the No. 1 goalkeeper role, a spot he hadn't been in since 2013, when he began the year as the No. 1 goalkeeper for the LA Blues. In 13 appearances he notched six clean sheets before sitting out the rest of the season due to injuries.

In 2014, he spent most of the year as the backup for Orlando City SC, appearing in just five matches, including the club's final match in USL (a stunning 1-0 upset loss in the first round of the USL playoffs).

"A few things didn't go my way, (so now) I'm just taking advantage of it," Woszczynski said. "Week in and week out, even if it's said you're the No. 1, you still have to come out in training and prove that every week."

Woszczynski admitted that over the past two seasons, while he brought himself back from injury and as he spent time on the bench, it was sometimes tough to keep any doubt about his career out of mind. But he had a simple solution to quashing that doubt:

"Positive thinking really goes a long way, as cheesy as it sounds," Woszczynski said. "If you get down and start thinking the world is against you, then things definitely won't go your way. So, just try to stay as positive as possible."

Positivity isn't the only explanation for how the three-on-one opportunity in Austin didn't even translate into a shot on goal. But moving forward, if a defensive miscue leads to on an odd-man rush, Woszczynski's teammates will see the glass half full.