Though the men’s soccer team suffered two consecutive losses to start the season, the squad hopes young players and a new strategy will turn its luck around this weekend.
In preparation for their match at Fairfield at 7:00 p.m. on Saturday, the Elis have been experimenting with a new field formation that would strengthen the defense and the center of the field.
“We’ve been trying to look at ways of better suiting the strengths of our players,” Yale head coach Brian Tompkins said. “We feel that we have guys who have strength suited to central midfield and we want guys who have been playing wide to have more of a presence in the game.”
The changes began last weekend, when the Elis’ traditional four-defender, four-midfielder, two-forward formation was swapped for a more offense-minded 3-4-3 in the middle of last Sunday’s match against Sacred Heart. But the squad could not get the ball on frame and went 0-10 in shooting opportunities, prompting this recent, more non-traditional alteration to the field configuration.
“We wanted to try and disrupt them [with the 3-4-3],” Tompkins said. “So we tried to pressure them more but we weren’t able to create more scoring chances.”
Now the Elis hope to play to their strengths by using a 4-1-3-2 shape against the Stags. The Bulldogs are rich with natural center midfielders and have a slew of promising freshmen forwards, yet they lack wing players. By going with three men in the middle, the team should be more effective in the center of the field and keep high pressure on offense.
The new configuration may even help the strong veteran defense by having the fourth midfielder play just in front of the back line.
“We’re hoping to eliminate the holes we had in the back [last weekend] and change our formation to suit a couple more of our strengths and to create more opportunities,” captain and goalkeeper Erik Geiger ’08 said.
Putting more pressure on the offensive end will be essential in taking on the 2006 MAAC league champion Stags on their home turf. Fairfield boasts a group of 12 talented freshmen and a goalie ranked 18th in the country for his .836 save percentage in 2006. The Stags are also returning some key juniors and seniors after their winning season last year.
But like the Elis, many of Fairfield’s veterans are new to their role as starters, and the squad will rely on contributions from the freshman class to fill in the gaps in the lineup. But youth can be a wild card, as inexperience becomes a factor.
“Anybody that comes into playing college games, regardless of background, is going to have to go through an adjustment period,” Tompkins said. “I think our guys have done well so far, and I’m confident that we can have a good performance this weekend.”
Though the Elis show promise, especially with their creative new defensive formation, the Stags do have a formidable offense that outscored opponents 32-19 last year. Tompkins said he expects to see a competitive team that will pressure the Bulldogs immediately. If the Elis’ new structure holds up under Fairfield’s offensive prowess, the visitors should be able to capitalize on their ability to possess the ball in the midfield and maintain a strong back line.
“We’re trying to work on our combination play and formation,” midfielder Jordan Raybould ’10 said. “We worked on our creative runs from midfield to forward and on being crisper in our movement off the ball. We’re definitely improving.”
Even after dropping a pair of games last weekend and facing a tough opponent tomorrow, the Bulldogs will only improve as time goes on and continuity in concentration, fitness and performance becomes the norm.
“This is a great group of young men who have a collective spirit and vision for what they want to accomplish,” Tompkins said. “They all want the same thing and having that quality is essential for us to get our game together. That’s why I feel confident.”