Usually, when a team will be playing flat, it’s a bad thing. But the Los Lunas High School boys soccer team is hoping that playing flat will be the missing ingredient in their championship recipe.
Head coach Eliseo Aguirre has decided to change his team’s formation from the often-seen sweeper/stopper 4-4-2 to what is called a “four flat” — meaning the back four defenders play in linear formation instead of in the more customary diamond.
“We’re hoping the new formation will help us stop the counter-attacks down the middle,” Aguirre said. “We’ll have more midfielders in the middle than on the outsides.”
What Aguirre is talking about is the revamped midfield that goes along with the four-flat formation. Under Aguirre’s scheme, the four midfielders will play in the shape of a diamond, allowing one to seize striking opportunities and another to fall back on defense if necessary.
Aguirre said the new formation has given the team some trouble in their pre-season workouts, but he is confident the players will get the hang of it.
“It’s something new we’re going to have to get used to,” the coach said. “But I’m not going to be thick-headed about it; if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work.”
Last season, things went pretty much according to plan for the Tigers — until the end. They posted a 15-3-1 record but just missed the state playoffs, losing three of their last five games.
The Tigers will have their first real test of the new system at the Clovis Invitational this weekend. The Tigers, who won the tourney last year, will play the Clovis junior varsity Friday. They’ll play two games Saturday against what should be much tougher competition, with Hobbs, Rio Rancho and the host varsity team among the contestants.
But that is only the tip of he proverbial iceberg for the Tigers. They have beefed up their pre-district schedule with the likes of Cibola, La Cueva, Sandia, Valley and last year’s state champs, Eldorado.
“The point is now we’re going to have to earn every single penny,” Aguirre said. “Our non-district games are going to be tough, and it’s going to get us ready for our district season.”
The Tigers are going to need plenty of preparation for their district schedule with Las Cruces bringing back at least eight starters. Alamogordo also took only a small hit, losing only three players to graduation.
The Tigers, on the other hand, will have at least three really big pairs of cleats to fill, with the loss of team leaders Ryan McDevitt, Danny Kastelic and Nathan Tooker.
“Guys like that you don’t replace,” Aguirre said. “We just have to find players to step into those roles.”
Roger Vaughn, who take over in goal in place of McDevitt, has had very limited varsity experience. But Aguirre is confident Vaughn can hold his own.
“He hasn’t played many varsity games,” the coach said, “but, once he gets used to the pace of the games, he’ll be fine.”
Leadership roles on the team will be filled by veterans Omar Vargas and Jeremiah Bustos, both seniors.
“They are good leaders and good captains,” Aguirre said. “They’re my coaches on the field. I can only coach from the sidelines, and they have to take us where we have to go.”
Seven other seniors round out the roster. The Tigers will also welcome three players who had to sit out most, or all, of last season. Brian Jiron and Ryan Baca are transfers from St. Pius.
Jiron is expected to bring some added stability to the newly revamped defense, while Baca, who did get to play a little last year, will be roaming on the right side at either mid-field or striker.
Another player to watch is Vincent Sprietler, who missed last season with a torn meniscus.
“He has been out here all summer,” Aguirre said of Sprietler. “He’s been looking very sharp.”
Los Lunas, which didn’t lose a game in pre-district play last season, will approach the start of this season more cautiously with its tough schedule.
“Our most important key is that we understand the non-district games are just a learning process for district play,” Aguirre explained. “We have to have everything down when we get to district play.”
According to Aguirre, the team has a very good chance of getting to the point he feels they need to be at come district time.
“The work ethic is there,” Aguirre said. “The only thing lacking is we, as a team, have to come together and play as a team.”
Having come close to making the state playoffs the last two years, Aguirre said the tigers still have a lot to prove.
“We’ve been so close to the state playoffs; last year we missed the post-season by a goal post,” Aguirre recalled. “We need to prove that we can get there and do something when we get there.
“But we also have to play to have fun. We don’t want to set the playoffs as our only goal. We also have to make sure that we have a good time.”
The Tiger’s first home game will be on Thursday, Aug. 29, against La Cueva.