Acadiana coach Jan Richard knows exactly what to expect when his team takes the field Saturday to face Jesuit in the LHSAA Division I state semifinal.
After all, No. 3 Jesuit has been a perennial powerhouse in Louisiana soccer for longer than some of the Acadiana players have been alive.
“You have to respect what they’ve done,” Richard said. “I mean I think they’ve at least made the semifinals for 13 straight years. They have a system in place in there, and it works.”
Richard said Jesuit coach Hubie Collins has a system that he’s stuck to and implements every year, and every year it gets the Blue Jays where they need to go.
Both teams have made their bones this season on defense, sporting two of the best defenses in the state.
Acadiana has allowed two goals in the playoffs, one to Northshore and one to Denham Springs, and Richard said his team has only given up two goals in a game on three occasions this season.
But Jesuit has pitched three straight shutouts up to this point in the playoffs; including a double-overtime thriller that saw them best cross-city rival Brother Martin in penalty kicks.
“They are very well organized, that’s the first thing that stands out,” Richard said. “They don’t really make mistakes and the midfield shields the backline well.”
Richard said with his trio of explosive forwards, Kade Kling, Jordan Angelle and Bailey DeRoussel, deployed in his 4-3-3 (four defenders, three midfielders and three forwards) system he wants to stretch the Jesuit backline to let his forward’s speed do the work.
Kling and DeRoussel operate on the outsides and will be tasked with penetrating the formidable Blue Jays backline.
“(Kling) I mean he’s so explosive I think he can pose some problems for them,” Richard said. “And (DeRoussel) is lightning in a bottle, I think if we can get behind them he can do damage.”
Getting behind the Blue Jays is the hard part, but that is where senior midfielder Salvador Colin comes in.
Colin is the Rams creative hub, and will have to battle with Jesuit’s defensive midfielders to win the battle in the middle of the park for Acadiana to have a chance.
“This game will be won or lost in the middle of the field,” Richard said. “I know (Colin) will go out there and leave his heart on the field and with his ability to get by people and his creative knack I know he will perform.”
The Rams defensive battle relies on the time it takes them to transition once Jesuit wins the ball and starts its offense.
As well as having big offensive responsibilities, Kling and DeRoussel will be tasked with sprinting back to get behind the ball before Jesuit can launch a counter.
“When we don’t have the ball our formation looks a lot like a 4-5-1,” Richard said. “(Kling) and (DeRoussel) will have to get back, tuck in and pressure the ball.”
With Jesuit traditionally setting up in a 4-4-2 formation deploying two outside midfielders, the Blue Jays could overwhelm the Rams wide backs without proper rotation in the midfield and hustle from the Kling and DeRoussel.
But Richard was confident in his system, saying all three of his midfielders in tandem with Kling and DeRoussel could handle the Jesuit attack.
“They like to get it wide and put crosses in, but if the midfield rotates and we can get our men behind the ball, we can stop that,” Richard said.
Acadiana defender Dylan Castaneda, who proved key in the Rams victory in the regional round against Northshore, will have to stem to the tide of crosses into the box if Jesuit is able to serve balls into the danger area.
Also aiding the Rams is a Jesuit offense that has yet to hit its stride in the playoffs, scoring only one goal in the last 160 minutes of regulation time. The Blue Jays have only scored four goals total in three games, while the Rams scored two in their last two games and 10 in their first round game.
But with a team of Jesuit’s stature, Richard is wary and wants his team to play mistake-free in fear of the Blue Jays’ ability to pounce on any miscues.
“We have to stay locked in for every second, cause as soon as we slip up they’ll capitalize. That’s just what they do,” Richard said.
The Rams will play Jesuit at 4 p.m. Saturday at home, their fourth straight home playoff game, something Richard said he thinks his team deserves and something that will hopefully help push his team into the finals.
“Playing in front of the home crowd always helps, and I think my boys deserve it, they earned it throughout the season,” Richard said. “That’s why we played such a tough regular season schedule: to prepare us for games like this.”