To Paul Holocher, movement equals money.
Since he came to Cal Poly in 2006, the men’s soccer coach has been banking that his possession attacking style — which emphasizes using many short passes to advance the ball — will elevate the Mustangs among the nation’s best.
He’s been carefully sculpting the roster to reflect the kind of ball-handling competence and soccer IQ he needs the Mustangs to have in order to run his style, a contrast to the boom ball mentality.
“Passing is a very, very important subject for us,” said Holocher, a former MLS player and two-time collegiate All-American who still holds scoring records at Santa Clara. “It’s an effective brand of soccer, kicking and running. It’s how we want to play.
“We have a bunch of players that were brought in that we feel can play this way. The objective is to be a team that the local fans can look down and say ‘That was really fun to watch. It was exciting.’ ”
Holocher has already led the program to some of its signature moments, including a 2-1 defeat of nationally ranked rival UC Santa Barbara in 2007, its first Division I NCAA Tournament appearance and victory in 2008 and a second-place finish in the Big West Conference in 2009.
Now, with his first full recruiting class entering its fourth year in the program, it’s time to find out if Holocher’s possession soccer is established enough to lead Cal Poly to even greater achievements.
“Mainly, I would say winning our first Big West championship, that’s our team goal,” senior forward David Zamora said, “and of course trying to beat Santa Barbara on our home field and hopefully go to the NCAA playoffs.”
The Mustangs (8-10-2 overall in 2009, 6-3-1 Big West) host the Mexican under-20 national team in an exhibition tonight at 7 and kick off the regular season Sept. 3 at Denver.
Overall, the roster is still young. Freshmen made up half of last season’s team, and former San Jose State transfer Junior Burgos is the only other senior aside from Zamora. But juniors Wes Feighner, Jake Husted, Patrick McLain, Evan Richter and Patrick Sigler form a solid nucleus of experience, and this team may be better prepared than any in Holocher’s tenure to possess the ball.
“Every single season we are a more possession-based team instead of a more direct (team) like we used to be,” said Zamora, who led the team with seven goals and 17 points a year ago.
“Most Division I schools go for that direct ball up the field or try to win the second ball, instead of building all the way from the the goalkeeper to the forward just by passing.”
What makes the possession style difficult is that it requires the entire team handling the ball well under pressure.
Burgos, a midfielder, emerged as someone who could do that late last season. Battling an ankle injury, he was the Mustangs’ second-leading scorer with four goals while appearing in only 13 of 20 matches.
He recorded just the sixth hat trick in program history when he scored all three goals in a 3-2 Big West win over Cal State Fullerton.
Feighner is also back to full health after missing portions of last season and going scoreless. The speedy forward from Los Alamitos had four goals and an assist two years ago as a true freshman.
Zamora and Burgos together scored two more goals (11) than the rest of the returning players combined. Feighner at full strength could help, and so could a group of seven freshman that includes three ESPN Rise high school All-Americans and together rank No. 38 in CollegeSoccerNews.com’s top recruiting classes of 2010.
With each new addition, Holocher is getting closer to his possession-based ideal.
“It changes more and more to what he wants very year,” Feighner said. “He keeps bringing in things that he wants to see and things he would like to adjust. So every year, the returners get to playing the way the he wants and he continues bringing in players that fit that mold.
“The goals will come. I think it’s inevitable with the amount of talent we have. If we have the ball consistently, we’re going to score.”