Coming into the 2015 season, Randy Waldrum put together a list of options to shore up a defense that gave up 44 goals across 24 games. The current setup, with former forwards Stephanie Ochs moving to center back and Ella Masar at right back, was not first in the initial drafts.
“I would say it was pretty far down the list,” Waldrum said. “I really didn’t plan on Steph as center back at all. We knew she had played left back for us. I’d say it was pretty far down the list for us to have made that move.”
Ochs, who went from being a lifelong forward to outside back midway through last season, started working at center back just days before the season opener against the Washington Spirit. She claims the transition from outside back to center back is more difficult than forward to outside back, but has taken to the new role.
“For me personally, it broadens my awareness and adds to my value as a player, because I’m naturally a forward, but I can play outside back and center back,” Ochs said. “It’s a tough transition to go to any new position but … I think it’s good for me and makes me a better player overall.”
Masar began her right back journey without any warning: “When Randy first put me back there, he was like ‘I wasn’t going to tell you. I was just going to put you in.’ So far, so good.”
Having spent spent her entire career side-by-side with defenders in a different role, Masar has taken the traits in opposing defenders that she disliked and applied them to her own game to turn the tables.
“A lot of girls don’t like when you’re right on their back, so I can do that and create a little bit of havoc for them,” Masar said. “I think if I can do what I hated, I think that helps me be a better defender.”
Both players have embraced their new roles wholeheartedly, and the early returns have been promising. Only a single goal has been let in through two matches and the legitimate scoring chances have been held to a minimum.
The insertion of veteran Niki Cross in the center back spot between Masar and Ochs has contributed greatly to the success of the experiment so far.
“We probably couldn’t do it without her. She’s the key back there because she does have the experience of playing there at so many levels,” Waldrum said. “It makes a world of a difference because she’s the one organizing things for us back there right now. Without her, the other ones wouldn’t know how to organize it because they haven’t played there enough.”
The defense will likely see a shuffle once more on May 2 when Canadian defenders Allysha Chapman and Lauren Sesselmann are available again, but the early season minutes and practice sessions are setting Masar and Ochs up for a period during the World Cup when they could be key to the team’s fortunes. According to Waldrum, they’ve taken the opportunity with an open mind.
“They’re both pros and they’ve been around long enough to know that these things happen. They just want to play. The good thing is they’re both students of the game and they’ve both studied video — on the plane ride home from Sky Blue, they were already watching video from the night before and asking questions. So I think they’ve approached it in a very professional manner.”