Column: Men’s soccer needs to fix its offense sooner rather than later

Dillan Schorfheide, Sports Editor

File Photo | The Daily Eastern News
Matheus Santos goes up for a head ball as a Green Bay defender challenges him for position. Eastern lost the September 2018 match 1-0 at Lakeside Field.

Kiki Lara necessarily focused a big portion of the offseason toward making the men’s soccer team a new, improved and hopefully more productive offensive threat.

Lara, the head coach, and his players made this season’s preseason storyline about the optimism of an offense sending more players forward with the attack and scoring more goals.

Yet, after just two matches (the first two of the season), the storyline is the exact opposite: An offense that shows no differentiation from last season and that yields little-to-no results.

Evansville put up three goals to Eastern’s one Aug. 30.

Xavier put up three goals to Eastern’s zero Monday.

Evansville outshot the Panthers 11-5 (7-2 for shots on goal).

Xavier outshot the Panthers 18-2 (6-1 for shots on goal).

Is there truly something to critique, or are these results indicative of an Eastern team that has played two respectable teams?

Evansville is a rival of Eastern’s, especially recently, and Xavier was ranked 14th in the NCAA preseason rankings and opened the season by defeating Akron, who was ranked 21st in the preseason.

But no excuses are to go beyond this point.

Eastern’s offense reverted back to its lackluster and subpar offense from last season, already in these first two matches.

Yes, Eastern did score once, but it came off a breakaway. Not to discredit scoring a goal, since I know I always felt great when I did, but you cannot count on breakaways all the time.

The starting lineup is basically the same for the offense, with the key players from last year returning.

I do truly believe the talent is there, but the style the team reverted to is not working and did not work last year.

That is why no excuses are allowed because for a whole year now, there was no indication of improvement, or signs of more players forward on the attack (like the team wants to do).

Eastern is getting few chances to score because it is not connecting passes throughout the field.

That means just what it sounds like: The Eastern defenders end up with the ball in front of their own goal and typically try to just kick the ball up to the forwards in the hope the forwards (usually alone) can actually win the ball against three or four defenders.

That is another issue coming up briefly, but this problem of not engaging the midfielders creates a disparity that Eastern cannot overcome by desperately trying to score in the final minutes.

When you are able to establish supply lines from the defense to the midfield to the forwards, it makes the other team work harder and wears them down.

On top of that, by making sure you are able to hold possession in all three thirds of the field, you will naturally create chances to score.

But that is only possible if you commit players up on the field (toward the attacking third) and manage to keep possession.

So far, Eastern reverted to playing it safe by not having many players up at all and instead opting to keep players back a little bit.

This creates a gap between the middle of the field and the attacking third, where a lot of your possession and chance-creating should start to happen.

That typical Eastern play of a defender airing the ball up to a forward and hoping good will come from it is the epitome of the ineffective offense Eastern is still employing.

With the players not going forward (not even the midfielders), the forward gets the ball (if he can win it) and has to hope he can wait until the cavalry shows up to relieve him of his frivolous one-on-three campaign.

It has led to so many turnovers and lost possession time that it will and has taken a toll on the defense; that toll being that since Eastern gives the ball to the other team so often, Eastern’s back line is constantly facing pressure and eventually cracks.

So, how does Eastern fix this problem before it gets to be too far in the season for real change?

I am glad you asked because I have the solution (or so I think).

Firstly, Eastern seems to be running a 3-5-2 formation (defenders, midfielders and forwards), but once the ball is kicked off, it turns into a 3-6-1 formation almost, since the other forward drops back a bit (which turns into the case of the lone forward constantly fighting losing battles).

The formation the team could really benefit from is a 3-5-2.

Oh, wait, I was trying to fix that.

Oh, yeah, here it is: Run three defenders, with the two wingbacks positioned ahead of the centerback and one defensive midfielder positioned ahead of the two wingbacks (it would form a diamond shape in the back).

This gives the defense an extra line of defense to help the fact that it has given up two or three goals due to an opposing attacker getting behind them to get an easy score.

This also positions one player directly in front of the defense to help them connect passes out of the defensive third up the field better.

The other four midfielders can be evenly spread across, well, the middle of the field.

Lastly, that two at the top of the formation will be a true two- both forwards will commit to staying up.

This formation should help the Panthers pass the ball through the field better, while also giving them more options up top.

Two forwards against three or four defenders is certainly an improvement over one versus the majority.

On top of that, Eastern could finally send more numbers forward with the comfortable knowledge that there is a staggered line of defenders to deter getting passed on counters.

Eastern has a similar setup currently, but with the revamped 3-5-2, the players would stay in their designated areas to help move the ball.

Eastern players now move too far away from each other to connect passes and pose a real threat.

These simple changes should help the Panthers create more opportunities to score because if they do not figure out something soon, finding a way to score later will become even tougher.

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