After losing three of its last four games while struggling on both ends of the field, last season’s Big West Conference Championship seems a distant memory for Long Beach State women’s soccer.
The Beach is two points outside of the playoff picture, meaning it may not get a chance to defend its conference title.
Long Beach is struggling to prevent goals, particularly in the outside of the field. This has caused a plethora of problems, ultimately leading to goals scored too easily for the opposing team. The Beach has allowed the fourth-most goals in the nine-team conference this year.
The strength of the Long Beach defense is in the middle, where junior defenders Kaitlin Fregulia and Myah Baksh have mostly succeeded in denying entry through the top of the 18-yard box. Teams have adjusted by going to the outside of the box and sending crosses to the front of the goal.
Once the crosses get in the box, the Beach does a poor job of clearing them. Half of the goals Long Beach has allowed in conference play have resulted from deflected crosses the defense failed to clear.
“Something that’s been our Achilles’ heel all year has been sloppy passes out of the back,” Ingrassia said.
Crosses often occur when opposing teams beat the outside defenders down the sideline. The inability of the Beach’s outside backs to prevent these rushes has put an unrealistic burden of containing them on Fregulia and Baksh. Instead of defending just center of the field, Baksh and Fregulia often have to expand their horizontal range all the way to the sidelines in order to cut off opposing forwards to prevent crosses.
Baksh and Fregulia are both excellent defenders. They have a knack for anticipating where the ball is going to be and beating opposing players to that spot. But having played every minute of conference action for the Beach, fatigue starts to show in the second half. Long Beach has allowed 16 goals in the second half compared to just six in the first half this season.
Part of the problem is the inexperience of the backline. Upperclassmen often outmatch the younger players for the Beach, having scored against Long Beach in all three of its conference losses.
“We only have one returning starter in the back,” Ingrassia said. “[Baksh] is new, [Fregulia] missed all last year, so it’s really only one returning player.”
Still, the defensive stats don’t look quite so bad on paper for the Beach. Long Beach also allowed the fourth-most goals against in the conference last season and still won the conference tournament.
The difference this season, according to Ingrassia, is that defensive mistakes factor into the offensive struggles the team is facing as well.
“There’s too much pressure on our center-backs to make plays,” Ingrassia said. “The first thing [the center-backs] should be doing is making defensive plays, not trying to start the offense every single time.”
The added responsibility of playmaking only adds to the unrealistic defensive burden shouldered by Fregulia and Baksh, further compounding the problem of their second-half fatigue.
Sophomore defender/forward Elysia Laramie is a natural center-back and could conceivably relieve the pressure from Baksh and Fregulia. That option has been erased by the fact that Laramie is needed even more as a forward, where she has scored four of the Beach’s six conference goals this year.
“We’ve just been reorganizing how we defend so we can afford having [Laramie] up top,” Ingrassia said.
Long Beach improved offensively in the win Thursday over UC Riverside, minimizing its dependence on Laramie with goals from sophomore forward/midfielder Sierra Castles and junior forward Nadiyah Siqueiros. Redshirt freshman midfielder Angela Morales assisted on both goals, sparking hope that Laramie could be used defensively without removing the Beach’s only offensive threat.
“Some players are starting to gel more offensively,” Ingrassia said.
It’s worth mentioning that so far this season Ingrassia has been hesitant to move Laramie to defense, where she played prior to the start of conference play.
“I wanted her to play forward the whole time, but we figured we were a little outmatched in the back row, so we ended up sliding her in the back [before conference play],” Ingrassia said.
Regardless of the tactics Ingrassia employs to resolve the Beach’s defensive issues and the resulting offense problems in tow, he will need to do so quickly.
According to his comments after the win against Riverside, the Beach may have found the solution already.
“Players are getting used to playing with each other,” Ingrassia said. “You just give it time and it just keeps developing.”
Long Beach must win at least one of its three remaining games to have a hope of making the postseason. If it loses Sunday at Irvine, it would need to win its final two games to have a chance of reaching the conference tournament. Irvine and UCSB are the two teams standing between Long Beach and a berth in the conference tournament.