The Azusa Pacific men’s soccer team leads the Pacific West Conference with a 5–1 record, 8–3 overall. Between a six-game winning streak and 18 recorded goals so far this season, there is no question why this offensive powerhouse is at the top.
“We are a team that emphasizes what we do in the attack more than defensively. Some teams will emphasize what they do defensively more and they’ll sit off of a team and look to play on a counterattack, where we try to possess the ball when we have it,” said head coach Dave Blomquist. “What we do with the ball in the attack is the focus of the team.”
This emphasis on offensive attacks comes as a result of the adoption of a 4-3-3 formation in the 2011 season, which allows for a style of play that entails a lot of quick passing and constant player movement.
“I felt like [the 4-3-3 formation] suited the types of players we had on the team that year and the types of players that had interest in APU. Some of the really good players that I was recruiting I felt fit that formation and that style better,” said Blomquist.
The formation, along with the quick passing on the ground that replaces the long passes forward, allows for the Cougars to attack in a number of ways.
“Some teams will play direct to their forwards, but we try to keep the ball on the ground and move it quickly. One and two touch passes to get the ball moving faster make it so the defense can’t react and recover quick enough,” said Blomquist. “We do that to try to find the gaps where we can move forward, and that might be out wide, or it might be in the middle.”
According to Blomquist, senior midfielders Oktay Bulut, Trenton Titus and Steven Shiokari often dictate how the team will move the ball, how quickly they move it and whether they are attacking up the middle or up the sides.
“We knew that the focus was on the three midfield players and that we had to possess the ball and play together,” said Bulut. “Once we started with a rhythm, everything was just growing together.”
The three midfielders underwent the transition from the Cougars’ previous 4-4-2 formation to the current 4-3-3 formation and have expressed preference for the emphasis the newer formation places on advancing the ball offensively. “We connect more, we pass the ball more, and we move it quicker; that allows us to get more chances,” said Titus.
In addition to the midfield’s role, Blomquist attributes much of the team’s success with this style to the players’ ability to interchange positions and move around.
“We do a lot more switching with our three forwards and our center mids. Our forwards can play midfield and our midfielders can play forward,” said Shiokari.
Blomquist said it takes a lot of practice for players to “get on the same page and read each other on the field” and anticipate what their teammates will do.
This style of play is not common at the college level. However, it is growing in popularity throughout the world. Blomquist mentions teams using it include FC Barcelona, which is moving the ball faster and has extended times of possession to create quality scoring opportunities rather than trying to score quickly.
“It’s a very difficult thing to do, but the times that we’ve done it really well in a game, we create a lot of chances,” said Blomquist. “We’re still progressing, we still need to turn those chances into goals, but when we do play our style the best that we can, we’re a very good team.”