Preview: New Coach, New System For Ohio Soccer

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Every season brings a new vibe to a college soccer program.

This year’s Ohio soccer team will have a different look to it and not because of graduates or transfers – the Bobcats return 19 players – but because new head coach Aaron Rodgers is implementing his system to the program.

Soccer, like many sports, takes an understanding by the coach to realize what type of players he or she has and what formation would help his or her players succeed.

Last season, coach Stacy Strauss led the Bobcats to an 8-10-1 record. They scored only 17 goals, while allowing just 23. Strauss was a defensive-minded coach, who often played with one forward.

This season, Rodgers will give the Bobcats a new look, which should give Ohio more opportunities in the attacking third. As a result, Rodgers hopes the number of goals scored by Ohio this season will rise significantly.

The new formation: Strauss’ lineup typically consisted of four defenders, five midfielders and one forward, or the 4-5-1. This formation can have many objectives.

The four defenders in the back, along with three central midfielders, make it difficult for the opponent to attack from the midfield. Defensively, the Bobcats were one of the top teams in the Mid-American Conference, ranking fifth in the conference in goals allowed.

Rodgers plans on keeping the four backs, but is looking at moving one or two midfielders up to the attacking third of the field to give the Bobcats more offense. From the spring games, Rodgers got a pretty good idea on where his team is with the adjustment to the new formations.

“This past spring, when we played, we started in a 4-3-3 at the beginning of spring and we ended in a 4-4-2, simply because I felt like the players fit best in a 4-4-2,” Rodgers said. “So going into this fall, I imagine we’ll start in a 4-4-2 and if we can get into a 4-3-3, that’d be awesome.”

Projected starters: The starting lineup will not be made until the offseason training is complete. Rodgers has some idea on who the starters will be, but is making it an open competition.

He said some players that fans can expect “some good things” from are Maggie Murnane, Sasha Haverchak, Grace Campbell and Mattie Liston. Murnane, Campbell and Liston were all starters and key contributors to last year’s team, but Haverchak had her season come to an abrupt halt after a leg injury through five games.

Rodgers also gave high praise to incoming players Alexis Milesky and Carly Manso. Milesky, a freshman, scored 42 goals in her high school career, and Rodgers expects her to bring that scoring mentality to his team’s attack. Manso transferred to Ohio from the University of Colorado and is expected to contribute immediately in the midfield.

Replacing the seniors: The Bobcats only lost four seniors to graduation, but they were all vital to the team’s success last season. Cat Rogers was the team’s leading scorer with seven goals. Erin Schwenke and Veronica Rock were vital starters to the team in the midfield. And Paige Howard joined Campbell, Gabby Hausfeld and Natalie Bechtel to form one of the best back four in the MAC.

But the Bobcats have the personnel to replace the four without missing a step.

The two open midfield positions will be up for grabs once training starts next week, but Rodgers has a plethora of players that can step into those two positions. At this moment, it appears Haverchak is the favorite to fill the void at one of the midfield positions, whether it’s inside or outside.

“[Haverchak] brings a great tactical knowledge of the game. She’s able to help bring other players into the game,” Rodgers said. “She’s a great passer of the ball. She is a great distributor of the ball. So she’s definitely going to be somebody that we are going to count on, in the attacking third of the field, to bring other players into the attack.”

By moving to a 4-4-2, Rodgers will be adding another forward to his starting lineup instead of an inside midfielder to replace Schwenke or Rock. Two players to watch at the forward position are sophomore Holly Harris, who had four goals last year, and Milesky. Haverchak could also move up and play there this season.

To replace Howard, Rodgers has a group of players he’ll watch. He and his coaching staff have looked at moving Tonya Frasik from the midfield to defense, along with new freshmen coming into the program.

“I think we have a lot of potential there,” Rodgers said. “You obviously have some returning players like Nicolle Varney and Natalie Bechtel. We have some freshmen, Erin Wrubel and Allie Kall, coming in that could potentially fill in those spots as well.”

Expectations: Most of last year’s team will return this season, but there will definitely be a different atmosphere with Rodgers as coach.

If Ohio scores 17 goals again this season, Rodgers’ expectations won’t be met. He said he hopes to “get three [or] four girls to score five, six [or] seven goals.” Last season, only one player – Rogers – scored five or more goals, and she graduated.

As for the regular season, Rodgers’ target is to get in the conference’s top eight, so they can compete in the MAC Tournament.

“At the conference tournament, I think with the team we have, I believe we can compete with anybody in our conference,” Rodgers said. “And once you get into single elimination, anything can happen. We could advance on and make it as far as we can.”

The Bobcats will play 19 regular season games, with eight against non-conference opponents. In those eight games, Rodgers hopes to see improvement from his squad, especially as they adjust to the new coaching style.

“This is going to be with a new coach and new era. We want to do the best we can, Rodgers said. “I want to see improvement from game-to-game-to-game, so we can get into the conference, we’re ready to go and compete for a top four. I’d love to get a top four seed. That’d be fantastic.”

The Bobcats have an exhibition match on Aug. 15 at UNC Greensboro. Their first official regular season match is Aug. 23 against the Indiana Hoosiers at Chessa Field. Ohio lost on the road last year to the Hoosiers, 4-2.