Generally, most teams have more than one flaw to continually fix throughout their respective seasons.
The Eastern men’s soccer team has spots to fill defensively, but head coach Kiki Lara always makes sure the defense is stout and tight.
Jonathan Burke is the no-doubt starting goalkeeper, taking over the role last season and posting a 1.20 goals against average.
That leaves the one blemish from seasons’ past to improve upon this season, which is, once again, the offense’s scoring power.
There are two ways to remedy that problem and to make the offense more of a threat this season.
Numbers and Risks
A common statement among the players and Lara last season was the need for more and better channel play, which, in short, entails players finding space and his teammates playing them through those “channels,” or space.
This year, before preseason action, Lara said the team focused on getting more players beyond the ball and to get more players further up on the field.
This would be a differentiation from last season, when the Panthers played a slower style of offense and relied on counterattacks often.
Eastern had such a good defense that relying on them to make stops was not a bad idea, but eventually, the defense would break.
And when the defense broke, there were no tallies in Eastern’s box on the scoreboard to keep the game at least tied.
When Eastern did get numbers forward last season, the Panthers often came away empty-handed, or without a dangerous attempt on-net.
Many times, even, the Panthers would have numbers in the box, but instead of crossing the ball in to the box to try and create any sort of chance, the player with the ball would pull it back and the offense would have to pull back and try to reload.
All momentum was killed and typically, that possession would turn into just that: possession.
Eastern has the speed to do what Lara planned out for his team this season.
Cameron Behm is a wing player who has the speed to make runs down the lines, which sets up the potential for him to get behind the defense and create chances off crosses.
To run the offense spacing-wise, Cole Harkrader is a key midfielder who has great field awareness and vision, and he always carries the ball and finds players through the opposing midfield.
But to create more scoring chances, and to get players beyond the ball and defense more this year, Eastern has to commit to sending more players forward.
The Panthers were hesitant to do so last year, and chances were far and few in-between.
Eastern is already very good at possessing the ball, but now it needs to take more risks and get to space and its spots quicker this season to truly enact what it is hoping to do.
Part of scoring is taking risks, and getting more numbers up and more players beyond the ball is a necessary risk for Eastern.
A safe offense, even a safe defense, for that matter, always ends up yielding to the result they were hoping to prevent, so the Panthers need to commit to sending numbers forward and playing the ball up.
More Scoring Depth
With only 16 matches this year, scoring an exponentially greater amount of goals than last year may be unfeasible, but scoring more is not.
But part of that is helped if more than just a handful of players score.
Last year, Christian Sosnowski led the team with three goals, though missing six matches with an injury.
Kris Luke scored one-sixth of the team’s goals last year and has since graduated. That does not sound like a huge loss, but it is because he scored two goals out of the team’s 12 total last season.
That also means a considerable chunk of the team’s firepower is already missing from this year’s squad.
Shady Omar tied as the second-leading scorer last season with Luke, then five other Panthers, including Harkrader, each had a single goal each.
Behm only recorded 10 shots last year, three on goal, Jake Andrews (not on the team this year) did not score and seven other players who all played at least 10 games last year (some defenders), did not score at all.
Behm, especially as a returner this year with his speed, is someone who cannot go another season scoreless as he and others all have the ability to score.
Depth is not just saying that more players need to score beside a handful, but it also means players need to score more individually.
If more players are involved in the offense, even defenders, the more chances are created and the more threats are available to put one in the back of the net.
That ties back in to Lara’s comments on getting more numbers up.
Eastern looks to be putting more emphasis on an offensive attack before this season, and it will need to stick with this plan if it hopes to not be among the bottom seven teams in the nation in scoring, as it was last year (tied for 193rd, last in the Summit League).
Dillan Schorfheide can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]