Matt Kagan knew that Oregon State soccer needed a culture change when he took the job.
The Beavers were outscored 54-6 last season and finished last in the Pac-12 with a 1-10 record. It made the tam’s 2011 trip to the NCAA Tournament feel like a distant memory and left Oregon State’s veterans hungry to improve quickly.
With the Beavers set to kick off their season Saturday at Portland State, Kagan and his squad believe that a fresh start has made all the difference and that a more attacking style of play will help Oregon State be much more competitive this season.
“They just needed a complete change, this group,” Kagan said. “They’re great kids and I want them to have as much success as possible. But they just haven’t. So being able to teach the group how to be competitive every single day is important in their daily growth. They need a complete change. It’s no disrespect to (former head coach Linus Rhode) — we’re actually really good friends. Even he told me, ‘You’ve got to come in and change things up.’ It was just time for change to happen.”
Kagan was hired to take over the program in January and is coming off a successful stint at Mississippi State, where he served as the associate head coach. In his final season with the Bulldogs, they reached the NCAA tournament.
He made the move to Corvallis, in part, because he wanted to coach in what he believes to be the best conference in the country. The numbers back that assessment up — in the NCAA’s preseason coaches poll, Stanford (No. 3), UCLA (4) and USC (5) all landed among the top five teams in the nation.
Last season’s Oregon State squad played a defensive brand of soccer and often ended up pinned back by the conferences elite attacking talent. Kagan wants to ditch that mentality entirely and play attacking, aggressive soccer.
He said his team will be tactically fluid and he doesn’t plan to stick to one formation. Rather, he will base his formation on the style of the opponent.
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“My formation is winning, and winning looks different all the time,” Kagan said. “We’ve tried two or three formations already this preseason. I can tell you that we will be a very attacking team and a pressing team; a team that will make it hard on opponents. Part of coaching is figuring out what the other team does great and taking that away.”
The Beavers return a handful of players who started the majority of last season’s games and will lean on veteran experience as they transition to a more up-tempo playing style. Toni Malone was the only Oregon State player to start all 19 games last season and could be a key figure in the attack.
“Matt is a very attack-minded coach and very-high-pressing coach,” Malone, a Thurston High grad, said. “That’s a big change from last year. I think we can produce a lot more goals and a lot more wins because of that.”
McKenzie Weinert led the Beavers with 33 shots and two goals last year and will be back in the fold as well. Brianna Reynolds, a freshman from Glendale, Calif., will also feature in the attack. She displayed a nice scoring touch with two goals in Oregon State’s 5-0 exhibition win against British Columbia on August 18.
“She’s just a player that is very smart, especially in the nine position with her runs,” Malone said of Reynolds. “I think she gives us a huge advantage up there.”
Marley Salveter, a freshman from Sandy, Ore., won 5A state titles in the 100 and 200 meter dash events during her prep career and also racked up all-state honors on the soccer pitch. She could provide a burst of pace up front for the Oregon State attack.
In Ashleigh Fonsen, Sydney Studer and Mylene Gorzynski, the Beavers return a trio of players who started the majority of Oregon State’s games at midfield last season.
“Expectations are definitely at a higher standard now,” Fonsen said. “Everyone seems a lot more committed and willing to be here and work hard. Previous years, it was all more laid back. Now that we’re all here, (Kagan) expect a lot more out of us and we’re all willing to take the extra step.”