In the 4-1-3-2 formation, UCLA started to sputter. The attack, which was potent during the first half of the season, did not have the energy and incisiveness it needed to break down defenses.
Then, before the USC game Nov. 4, UCLA lined up in a 4-3-3 and everything changed. The wingers created danger from wide spaces and the scoring opportunities opened up, resulting in two big victories.
The difference? Flexibility.
“(The new formation) gives us more freedom to be more fluid and float into the gaps,” said redshirt freshman attacking midfielder Anika Rodriguez. “Me and (freshman) Jessie Fleming are on the same page right now, so we’re just flowing back and forth. It helps confuse the defense a little and helps us get in spaces we normally wouldn’t be able to.”
Fleming, in particular, has seen her position change. Rather than starting in her usual midfield position, she is lined up as a false nine in the last two games.
While she has not managed a goal from the forward spot, her creative abilities have been on clear display.
Against USC and Seattle, Fleming set up dangerous chances for her teammates and notched an assist against the latter.
“It’s definitely fun trying a different position,” Fleming said. “It’s definitely been different shifting my focus to the partnership with the 10 (attacking midfielder), whether it’s on Anika Rodriguez or (redshirt freshman) Chloe Castaneda, just trying to get in behind or off the front and trying to play like a target player.”
Redshirt junior defender Zoey Goralski has also lined up further forward than she was prior to the formation switch. She’s been a menace on the wings, taking defenders on and consistently getting crosses and shots off.
“She has the speed to get in behind and she’s a nightmare for any defense,” said coach Amanda Cromwell.
Goralski has added something to the attack the Bruins haven’t had since senior forward Darian Jenkins went down against Oregon – a speed threat.
[Related: UCLA beats Oregon 3-2 despite Jenkins injury]
Aside from the lineup change, the formation allows Cromwell to shuffle her pieces around.
Rodriguez will shift from the number 10 to the wing in certain situations. Goralski can drop to right-back and allow redshirt senior forward Courtney Proctor some time at winger. Castaneda also jumps between the wing and the 10. Then, there are the aforementioned changes to Fleming’s position.
This negates the possibility for predictability and keeps the defenses guessing.
“It’s hard to defend,” Cromwell said. “They all add some different qualities. I like how it’s looking. I love the vibe and the chemistry.”
The Bruins’ flexible alignment has injected some life into the attack at a crucial point in the season and could help them make a run in the NCAA Tournament – where they face Nebraska in the second round.
So far, so good.
“We’re scoring more goals, creating better chances and taking advantage of the skill sets we have on the field,” Fleming said.