Men’s soccer team focused on using heads


Dillan Schorfheide

Sophomore forward Shady Omar heads a corner kick away from Eastern’s goal during a 1-1 draw against Evansville on Friday, Aug. 31 at Lakeside Field.

Dillan Schorfheide, Assistant Sports Editor

At one of the men’s soccer team’s last practices before school started, the team ended practice with a crossbar challenge, in which multiple teams competed for bragging right’s sake.

Everyone who was not kicking at the current moment stood behind the goal to shag balls and feed them to those kicking. But Shady Omar stood out among everyone else shagging attempts by emphatically getting to high and wide kicks first and heading them back to the kickers.

“I make it one of my personal goals to never lose a challenge in the air or on the ground, part of it is mental too, if I tell myself I can win the ball I will,” Omar said. 

While it may seem unnecessary to attempt head balls so intensely during a meant-to-be fun game at practice, Omar’s drive to win as many head balls as possible is exemplary of the style of play Eastern wants to produce on the pitch.

“It is very important that we position ourselves for competing for any ball in the air and in many ways like a rebound in basketball—anticipate and compete for the second ball,” head coach Kiki Lara said.

Omar, along with defenders Edgar Mesa and Erik Isaksson, represent three of the Panthers’ best presences to win the ball in the air on offense and defense, whether it be on free kicks or corner kicks or goal kicks.

“In my opinion, winning the first and second balls are vital because it ensures we maintain possession of the ball,” Omar said. “I think that when our team is successful at doing so we are at our best.” 

So far in the team’s young season, Eastern has not scored any goals from headers off any kicks, but at the same time, the Panthers have not given up any goals off headers either.

“We have been very good in the air defensively since the preseason matches and getting better,” Lara said. “Offensively we have also been getting closer to score out of the air and goals will start to fall soon from offensive set pieces we believe.”

Isaksson scored Eastern’s lone head ball goal this year during an exhibition match against DePaul, which ended in a 2-1 loss for Eastern.

Isaksson, along with Mesa, will be two of Eastern’s biggest players on defense to win kicks out of the air and prevent any chances for a goal. Even Omar went back on defense to head balls away during Eastern’s two home matches this past weekend.

Then on the flip side, all three have the chance to win head balls on offensive kicks and, if not score a goal, head the ball to a dangerous spot for another Panther to finish. But Omar has already shown so far that he is the Panthers’ guy when it comes to winning a ball out of the air in a pool of players.

“(Heading balls) is definitely one of the stronger parts of my game, I like to focus on everything so I can be a complete player all around but I have worked on heading a lot,” Omar said.

Although only one attempt made the opposing goalie grab the ball, Omar has had a couple head balls go toward the goal on offensive set pieces and balls crossed from the corner.

Then on friendly and opposing team goal kicks, if Omar is in, he is the one winning the kicks a majority of the time in the midfield. 

But not all headed balls have to be to score a goal or to stop the opposing attack.

Another side effect of potentially winning head balls, or just simply being able to head the ball, is assisting in moving the ball.

It is very common for players to head a ball as a pass to their teammates to move the ball around, almost always when the ball bounced too high for them to coral or if they are being pressured and need to head-pass the ball quickly.

Being that build-up play is something the Panthers want to improve upon and make into a fluid and flawless tool for the season, using head-passes to advance the ball to runners or to put the ball into space is another way Eastern can and already has utilized its heads this season.

Dillan Schorfheide can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]