Early this season, when Maryland men's soccer coach Sasho Cirovski experimented with a 4-3-3 formation rather than using the 4-4-2 he employed last year, he said he was preparing the team to be more flexible against other team's tactics.
The Terps reverted to 4-4-2 midway through the year and didn't change until Sunday's regular-season finale against Michigan.
Facing the Wolverines, Cirovski took advantage of his team's 4-3-3 experience, though the impetus for the change — his team being shut out in three consecutive games — was something he "never could've foresaw," he said.
The Terps lost three straight entering Sunday, and even though a 2-1 double-overtime loss extended their losing streak to four, forward DJ Reeves' 36th-minute goal snapped their scoreless streak and gave the team hope its offense can improve in the postseason.
"Well, you lost three games," Cirovski said, "[so] you look to make some changes."
When the Terps used a 4-3-3 formation, Reeves started alongside forwards Gordon Wild and Sebastian Elney.
When Maryland switched to a 4-4-2 — solidifying its possession and temporarily boosting its offense in the process — defensive midfielder Andrew Samuels entered the starting lineup and forced Reeves to the bench.
Sunday, however, Samuels started, midfielder Eryk Williamson moved up to striker and Reeves — who's dealt with some ankle injuries this year — remained out of the starting lineup.
However, the speedy junior played his most minutes as a substitute in nearly a month.
In the 36th minute against Michigan, 310 minutes since the Terps' last goal, Reeves cleaned up a cross in the middle of the box and fired it into the corner for his second score of the year and first since Oct. 2.
After the game, Reeves said it was difficult to enjoy his performance, given Michigan erased Maryland's chances at a Big Ten title and pushed the Terps to the four-seed in the Big Ten tournament."I'm willing to do whatever it takes to help this team win," Reeves said. "Obviously I'm more of a wing forward … but I mean, it doesn't matter to me if I'm a striker in a 4-4-2 or if I'm a winger in the 4-3-3."
The change to the 4-3-3 allowed Williamson, other wingers and the Terps' outside backs to come forward and add width to the attack.
The formation change was the latest and most effective effort to snap the Terps' attack out of its slump. Maryland's offense — which returned all five of its strikers and midfielders from last year's second-ranked offense — has been inconsistent throughout the year and disappeared in the previous three games.
Wild, who scored 33 goals across his first two years of college, has just five goals in his junior season and just twice from the run of play. Midfielder Amar Sejdic scored nine times in 2016 and has just three tallies this year, two from penalty kicks.
Cirovski brought Wild and Williamson off the bench in recent games, hoping some rest and a slight role change would spark the offense.
It didn't. And even though the formation change showed more promise, it still wasn't enough to prevent the Terps' first four-game losing streak since 1993, Cirovski's first year at Maryland.
"Our big-name players in the attack need to start performing," Cirovski said. "That's my job: to get their minds right and inspire them. And I'll do my job, and they'll do theirs."