Rangers get more from less in swap of scheme

Ariana van den Akker/The Herald
Cody Tempel (23) and the rest of Forest Park’s defense changed course early this season, switching from a four-man wall to a three-man shield. The hope was for a continuation of stingy defense and a boost of offense, and the switch worked as the Rangers have reached the Class 1A regional for the second straight year. Thursday, they’ll battle Evansville Mater Dei at 8 p.m. EDT in the semifinals at Fort Branch.

By JOE JASINSKI
Herald Sports Writer

For Forest Park boys soccer coach Brent Sicard, it boiled down to a simple concept: Less can be more.

The idea stretched in several directions.

Henke

Less meaning fewer goals allowed. Less, in the Rangers’ case, implying fewer defenders in the back line, which often doesn’t correlate with the previous notion. And lastly, less defense allowing more bodies in the attack, yielding more chances, more shots and more goals.

After scoring a single tally in each of their first two matches while permitting one more, the Rangers made a change in hopes of getting more with less.

So before the Rangers’ skirmish with Heritage Hills on Aug. 27, Sicard implemented a new formation — a three-defender, five-midfielder set, pushing a defender into the middle in hopes of bolstering an attack that lacked a dominant scorer.

The reduction spelled growth.

In the 15 contests since the reshaping, Forest Park has given up an average of one goal per match and is yet to surrender more than two goals in a single contest. To boot, the Ranger offense began sizzling after the switch, brandishing just less than four goals per game.

Flamion

And it’s been a vital facet to the squad’s postseason run this fall, as the Rangers (11-3-3) kick off their second straight regional bid against 12th-ranked Evansville Mater Dei (7-11-1) in the semifinals at 8 p.m. EDT Thursday at Fort Branch in a rematch of last year’s regional championship.

Yet the lineup modification didn’t arrive without calculation. In fact, Sicard hadn’t tried a three-man defense since 2009. However, with four-year starter Cody “Rio” Tempel, three-year starter Cody Flamion and two-year staple Cole Henke as the defensive anchors, Sicard never blinked.

The move was met by a bit of apprehension. Why change something that works? Henke thought Sicard presented the idea.

“It was pretty much just like a wall,” Henke said in describing the prior four-man back line. “(Opponents) didn’t touch us.”

Sicard’s response? Exactly.

“I know we’re playing good defense, and that’s the reason we’re going to this. Because I trust you guys,” Sicard recalled saying.

That belief began in the middle with Rio.

Tempel was given the nickname his freshman year when he and Flamion would both run toward Sicard when their name was called. So assistant coach Aaron Trafton, a diehard Manchester United fan, began calling Tempel “Rio,” after the team’s lanky center defenseman, Rio Ferdinand.

Fittingly, the name and the position have become Tempel’s calling card. To his coaches, he’s Rio. To the players, he’s Rio. In the hallways at school, he’s Rio. And as dependable as the Englishman has been across the pond, so too has Tempel been with the Rangers.

“You’ve got to have somebody that you trust in that center back position to kind of hold things down,” Sicard said. “And if they can’t be in command, you’re going to struggle.

“He has command of that area.”

The way the defense has been operating, it’s almost as if the trio system “is all we’ve ever known,” Tempel said.

“We’re like a family back there and we do have a lot of pride for our defense. We work to keep others from scoring and to help our team as much as we can. ... It’s a love for our position.”

Though timid as a freshman and sophomore, Sicard said Tempel has emerged over the past couple seasons as “a beast in the air,” by the coach’s evaluation. And with Flamion and Henke on the outsides, the aggression never subsides.

With Flamion, Sicard “can’t even explain what he does, because he looks so overmatched out there game after game, but he never gives anything up. He will run down anybody, he will outwork anybody, he’s got a motor that never stops.”

Across the field, the only reason Henke might require respite is because of how fast he’s going.

“His motor is 200 miles per hour, and he can wear himself out because he’s working so hard,” Sicard said. “But when called upon, he’s never going to give up on a play.”

Supported by statistics, the trio’s tenaciousness has drawn gains. The 18 goals the Rangers have allowed this season are 25 fewer than they allowed in 20 games last season and 14 fewer than they allowed in their 17-game season two years ago.

“It’s just all kind of clicking back there. I’m not really for sure how to put it,” Flamion said. “It’s kind of one of those unexplainable things — just the experience that we’ve had, working together for so long.”

That familiarity generated some performances this season that left Sicard and his defense quite content. Flamion pointed to a 2-1 win over Evansville North, when he and Henke shared the task in quieting North striker Caleb Powers. Henke and Sicard both identified a 1-1 draw with Washington, when the Rangers turned away a dozen Hatchet corner kicks. For Rio, Saturday’s sectional championship against Heritage Hills stands out as the pinnacle.

“That was the best feeling, defensewise. We really went hard and did not stop,” Tempel said. “We were so exhausted that after the game, we felt like passing out.”

It’s the effort that doesn’t always get mentioned, Sicard said, yet the defense has been vital to what does garner recognition: goal production. When Dakota Begle, a stalwart central midfielder who tallied seven goals last season, burst onto the scene with 13 goals through the first nine games, it was in large part because of the senior’s ability to push forward with the additional midfielder.

Sicard believed the change would work. And with less in defense, the Rangers feel they can achieve more than ever before.

“We saw the potential,” Sicard said, “and they’ve done it.”

Contact Joe Jasinski at jjasinski@dcherald.com.




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