Men’s soccer team looking to improve offense, ready for season opener

Dillan Schorfheide, Sports Editor

Saint Louis erected a roadblock in the Eastern men’s soccer team’s path toward an improved offense this season by shutting Eastern out 3-0 in an exhibition match Aug. 19.

Being an exhibition match, the loss and subsequently the shutout, do not paint the end-all-be-all picture for the Panthers’ season.

The loss does point out the transition the team is going through offensively, especially right before the team’s season opener at Evansville Friday.

Head coach Kiki Lara focused the team’s offense, in the offseason, on getting more numbers beyond the ball and sending more players forward on the attack.

This strategy is straying away from the lackluster one Eastern implemented last year, as last season, the team did not send a lot of players forward, typically leaving three defenders back to be safe of counterattacks.

What that did was leave an undermanned offensive attack to try and weave through the opposing defense, or to try and coral a cross in to the box with fewer heads to potentially hit the ball out of the air.

The Panthers’ results with this new strategy remain to be seen, as, so far, it has produced one goal in an exhibition match against Valparaiso Aug. 15.

Despite a small setback in the team’s plan, Shady Omar, a returning forward who was tied as the second-leading scorer last season with two goals, said the team was able to learn from the exhibitions ahead of the team’s season opener.

“(Against Valparaiso) we did really well with that there was a lot of combination play and we created a lot of chances for us to score which is a huge step forward from last year,” Omar said.

He added that Eastern came out against Saint Louis flat and was not prepared, but that the Panthers played better in the second half and showed improvement in what was an important learning experience.

Lara’s new strategy of sending more players forward with the offense goes hand-in-hand with what he wanted the offense to do last year.

A year ago, Eastern scored 12 goals all season, a total that was last in the Summit League for that category.

Lara wanted, throughout the season, to see his team improve with its channel play, or players getting in to spaces in the defense and then getting the ball in to that space.

With more numbers up against the opposing defenses, this year, creating and finding space could be easier.

“I think (we have improved markedly) on bringing numbers forward and putting in more crosses (to the box) which will help us score a lot this year,” Omar said.

Crosses were a hit-or-miss with Eastern last year as a lot of times when the forwards and midfielders set up for a cross, the defender who controlled the ball would either pull it back and switch fields along the defensive line, or the cross would end with no positive results.

Omar is the tallest forward Eastern has available, and was the one who typically would win head balls last year.

Overall, last season, Eastern had two goals off headers, but even then, those are just two good results out of the many free kicks and corner kicks that yielded no scoring outcome.

Friday’s season opener for Eastern presents the Panthers with a team that has been a small, but not forgotten, thorn in the side of Eastern’s program: Evansville.

Eastern led 1-0 over Evansville nearly 75 minutes last year when Eastern hosted Evansville, but the Purple Aces got a favorable penalty kick call and tied the game, which ended in a draw.

The Panthers exacted revenge in a spring exhibition match, when Omar said he scored the lone goal, which gave Eastern a 1-0 victory.

Eastern’s season begins when the two sides kick off Friday at 6 p.m. in Evansville.

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