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February 2, 2023

SOCCER: Baler boys eye defense first

After allowing 40 goals last season, Balers change approach to
defense first

After allowing 40 goals against last season, which was second most in the Tri-County Athletic League, the San Benito Haybalers have understandably adopted a defensive approach this season, albeit a somewhat uncommon one.

Implementing a 5-4-1 formation — the Balers will move into a 4-4-2 if more offense is needed — San Benito has more on its back line than most teams, with the plan to shut down the opposition first before moving forward with the attack.

“We start from the defense and move forward,” senior sweeper Charlie Ramirez said.

On the surface, the newly installed formation isn’t necessarily working swimmingly. The Balers have allowed 19 goals already this season — the most in the TCAL — and compiled a 3-4-0 record during their non-conference schedule, the same as last year.

But setbacks from the start of the season didn’t help the Balers any. Head coach Ramiro Ramos lost three varsity players to knee injuries, and San Benito, still learning its new defensive formation, allowed 11 goals in its first three games.

“Once they get that 5-4-1 formation really down, we’ll do good,” said Ramos, who is in his second year at the helm for San Benito. “They’re still having trouble adapting to it because last year we played a 4-4-2.”

The defense-heavy formation is also not very common.

A few years ago, Ramos implemented a 5-3-2 formation against a high-scoring opponent in the District Cup. The team was “beating everyone handily,” but Ramos’ team managed to post a 2-1 victory, nonetheless.

“I kept the formation in the back of my mind,” he said. “Against hard teams, that’s what we’ll go with.”

While the start of the season provided plenty of setbacks for San Benito, the team may just be beginning to find its defensive foothold. The Balers opened up TCAL play last Thursday against Palma — which defeated San Benito twice last season by a combined 7-2 margin — and battled to a scoreless tie at home.

Although it wasn’t a win, the 0-0 finish snapped a three-game losing streak to the Chieftains, dating back to 2008.

“We have a pretty good defense,” Ramirez said. “When we started with four defenders, they started scoring. But with five, we stopped them. We pressured them.”

With one lone player at forward — San Benito’s starting forward is Oscar Estrada — the key to the Balers’ formation are their two stoppers in Andy Hurtado and Steven Mercado, and their outside mids in Sergio Lopez and Alex Salvatier.

“We look to play with a strong defense first,” Hurtado said. “The goals will come.

“I think we play this way because we don’t have as much speed as some other teams. We have to find other ways to stop them.”

And San Benito has already held one of the faster team’s in the TCAL — Palma — to a goose egg on offense.

“We’re more of a family than last year,” Hurtado added.

“We’re trying to be the team that’s the best. We’re confident, but we need to stick to the game plan.”

Being the best often entails beating the best. But while Alisal (1-0-1 TCAL, 6-1-3), Everett Alvarez (1-0-1, 5-1-3) and Gilroy (1-0-0, 5-2-1) expect to be formidable this season, no one appears to be standing head and shoulders above the other, at least not yet.

North Salinas is 0-2, but TCAL records are otherwise peppered with ties already, perhaps an indicator the league is more balanced this season.

“But Alisal, they’re always the favorite,” Hurtado said. “We need to be tough Tuesday and show them what we’ve got.”

San Benito and Alisal will square off in Salinas at 3:30 p.m. — a game that could speak volumes as to how far the Balers have come and how far they have left to go.

“I think we’re the team the most scored on right now,” Ramos said. “We’re still learning.

“But Alisal is gonna be a good opponent to see how well the formation works.”

Andrew Matheson
A staff member edited this provided article.

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