Soccer’s new formation propels team to early season victories

Four games, 14 goals and 13 different goal scorers. The highest-scoring game since 2015. And despite a slight slip-up against Rose-Hulman on Wednesday night, a 3-1 record to be proud of. It is a really exciting time to be a Little Giants soccer fan. Driving this early success has, of course, been some moments of individual brilliance. Freshmen Jose Escalante ’26, Myles Bernat ’26 and Caleb Castaño ’26 have all scored wonder goals to aid Wabash to victory. That’s not to mention the amazing work done by new center back duo Andre Aguilera ’25 and Hayden Eaton ’25 to keep opposition defenses at bay.

“I think the new guys, and some of the guys that didn’t play much last year, meshed in well with the big senior and junior group that we have,” said Head Soccer Coach Chris Keller. “It has looked good in the final third. We’ve had those chances in years prior, but I think this season we have a little bit more quality going forward to be able to actually put those away.” However, beyond individuals, something else has been at the heart of Wabash’s convincing victories: Coach Keller’s new formation. Tactics in modern soccer are fluid, and no one term can define the way a team plays all the time.

But generally, in the 2021 season, Coach Keller opted for what could either be described as a 4-3-3 or 4-5-1 formation, depending on how you look at it. A 4-3-3 consists of a solo striker who is supported by two wingers and three midfielders in behind. A 4-5-1 is similar, except the two wing players sit in slightly deeper, operating more of a midfield role. But looking at the Little Giants’ opening four games, it appears that Coach Keller has slightly modified his tactical outlook. Rather than playing with three midfielders, it seems as though Keller has opted to push one midfield player forward.

The effect of this is what I would describe as a 4-2-3-1, with two central midfielders and three attacking players feeding the center forward. It isn’t an overhaul of last year’s formation, but its effect on the field is noticeable. The 4-2-3-1 is, at least optically, far more offensive. The striker up top is no longer just a goal scorer; he becomes a target man who can lay the ball off to the deeper central attacking player sat in behind him. Similarly, two central attackers give the wingers more options in the middle, making short passing interplay between the front four much easier. “In the past we have been a pretty defensive group,” said Coach Keller. “But knowing we have the players in the midfield and up top to create more options, we are taking more risks. I think they are calculated, but we want to attack with our outside backs more.” The formation also has an effect on the midfield players.

In this line-up, the two remaining center midfielders are far more exposed than they were before. And with the wingers higher up in the attack, the defensive flanks are left very bare. This means that midfielders like Emilio Paez ’25 and Jakob Faber ’23 are required to do a lot more running than last season to make up for lost defensive coverage. This is arguably the biggest downside to the new formation. “The biggest challenge for us this season will be controlling the game,” said sophomore midfielder Emilio Paez ’25. “We have so much talent between all the midfielders where we can lead and help control the game. But being consistent is a challenge for any team, even the professionals. Constantly training and just communicating to be on the same page is what will ultimately help us solidify our midfield from week to week.” The exposed wing area also means that the Wabash full backs need to be extra careful.

Thankfully for the Little Giants, the team has two very capable outside backs in Quinn Leous ’23 and Jerry Little ’24. Both players’ defensive capabilities are more than matched by their ability to play the ball forward, essential qualities in this new system. Time will tell if Coach Keller’s tactical re-organization pays off. But as long as Wabash’s midfield players can cover exposed ground on defense, the changes should produce a powerful Wabash side capable of scoring a myriad of goals.