Mac. Haifa's Defense Awaits Another Victim in Mac. Tel Aviv

Maccabi Haifa officials in charge of measuring how many kilometers each player on its soccer team run have discovered an unusual statistic: Goalkeeper Nir Davidovitch logs on average four kilometers per match.

He certainly isn't racking up frequent flyer mileage chasing down balls. Haifa has yielded a miserly 10 goals this season, registering 15 shutouts. Rather, the explanation is that for lack of anything better to do he has used games to keep in shape, Maccabi coaches say.

Most of the opposition's attempts to attack are neutralized far from Haifa's penalty area. Head coach Elisha Levy deserves credit for designing the defense using two models - one employs two strikers and the other three - and drilling them into his players heads. "There's almost never a team meeting without defense being one of the subjects," says one team official.

Officials say Levy's approach is that the entire side is responsible for defense, starting with the strikers. Getting the job done requires the players to be incredibly fit, but the defensive line at the beginning of the season was lacking in this area. Defender Dekel Keinan was criticized for being slow, while the staff wanted to get rid of Keinan's buddy, Jorge Teixeira. Eyal Meshumar couldn't get any respect, and only Peter Masilela won kind words from the coach.

So the coaching staff decided that it wasn't about who was playing but what they were doing, and set a team target of 100 kilometers per game. This season, say the coaches, eight players are averaging at least 10 kilometers per match, and that translates into solid defense.

Two of those players shoring up the defense are midfielders John Culma and Biram Kayal. The two have complained about fatigue and injuries threatening to sideline them. Levy has responded by lightening their burden when possible to save them for important matches, most recently this week so they can be in top form for tonight's match against Maccabi Tel Aviv.

But the bottom line for Maccabi Haifa is that it's not about the identity of the opponent, but the method.

Maccabi Tel Aviv is trying to give defense no less attention for tonight's match. Manager Avi Nimni and his coaching staff emphasized stopping Haifa's midfield if Tel Aviv is going to have any chance to win. Haifa's Masilela can expect to be guarded closely in particular.