The Bears will deviate from their traditional 4-3-3 formation to test a new 4-4-2 strategy against the Mustangs, a move that may improve Cal’s goal to shot ratio and defensive alignment.
“We needed to change something and use our width more,” senior Betsy Hassett said. “[Cal Poly] will not be expecting it.”
With their 4-3-3 style, the Bears (2-2) lead the Pac-12 in shots (80) and shots per game (20).
Yet as impressive as the shooting stats seem, they must be taken with a grain of salt.
In matches against No. 24 Santa Clara and No. 18 Missouri, Cal created plenty of opportunities — but only had two goals to show for their work.
“I wouldn’t say we had bad games against either team,” sophomore midfielder Taylor Comeau said. “We just didn’t put away our chances.”
Furthermore, Cal’s three-forward set is designed to create numerous scoring chances, so these numbers aren’t unexpected. Yet often the opportunities never amount to any serious chances.
The 4-4-2 may be the answer Cal was looking for.
“We are trying to see what different formations we can work with because we have many talented players that can play both midfield and forward,” Comeau said.
The forwards remain the most unpredictable unit on the squad. Although freshman Ifeoma Onumonu has impressed thus far, no other forwards have stood out.
Contrast this with a solid core of midfielders comprised of Comeau, Hassett, Kaitlyn Fitzpatrick and others off the bench, and suddenly the formation change comes as no surprise.
While tactical adjustment may produce more favorable chances and less wasted opportunities, there is an underlying need to improve defensively that is also pushing the move.
“Defensively we have to be very stingy, not giving up as many opportunities as we did against Missouri,” McGuire said. “We need to drop back.”
Having an extra athlete in the defensive third will certainly help the Cal, but the Bears’ defense cannot be too aggressive. Too many fouls and overcommits may play right into one of Cal Poly’s strengths — dead ball play.
“They have athletes that can kick the ball hard on free kicks, so we have been working to deal with that,” Comeau said.
The Mustangs have not lost a game this season, playing three out of their four games on the road. However, the team also has yet to face a team in a nationally prominent conference.
Cal Poly returns three of its top scorers from 2011 squad that finished 9-9-1, yet long tenured head coach Alex Crozier has a lot of work to do if his squad is to capture their eighth Big West crown.
Whether it’s dead balls, better scoring chances, or tougher defense, Cal has a lot to work on following two disappointing losses against ranked teams. Ironing out these issues begins with the Mustangs.