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CEC employs terrifying two up front

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Traditionally, most big soccer clubs around the world have employed what's known as a "big-little" combination when they use two forwards.

It works like it sounds: one small, faster player taking passes from a big player in the box, sometimes known as a target man.

Cloquet-Esko-Carlton doesn't think that way, at least not this year. They employ a "big-big" combination of seniors Thomas Porter and Kade Bender to often devastating effect.

The approach — and a change in philosophy — worked to perfection Tuesday as CEC dismantled Hibbing-Chisholm 5-0 and evened its season record at 3-3 in the process.

"We played our best game of the year," coach Archie Clark said. "But we had to feed the big players in the middle."

Both Bender and Porter are 200-pound players who have authority in the air and are strong in the box.

"Teams see those big forwards and have to figure out how to keep them away from goal," Clark said.

But it was a change at the back of the lineup which helped pay dividends against the Bluejackets. Clark went to a back three instead of a back four employed by most teams. The resulting alignment allowed for five midfielders, and CEC dominated the center of the field as a result.

"Most coaches subscribe to the old adage that the team that wins the midfield wins the game," he said. "And when you stack five midfielders across the field, you can usually do that."

Otto Cockburn scored the first goal of the game in the 35th minute and CEC broke things open with a four-goal barrage in the second half. Drake Schramm, Bender, Caleb Swanson and Logan Grayson all found the range in a 28-minute span which turned the match into a rout.

"The midfield dominated the game and we had some guys step up and score who hadn't," Clark said. "That was a fun game to watch. Our big players made an impact and that was great to see."

CEC has struggled to find itself in the early going, losing 4-0 to a talented Columbia Heights team in the opener and conceding five goals at Mounds View four days later.

"(Center back) Peter Tomhave got hurt against Columbia Heights and we were a little iffy to start the year without him," Clark said. "But Andy Acers and Denny Genereau have filled in very well and Andy was especially good against Hibbing. He was everything you want a center back to be: tough, strong and took charge."

When Tomhave returns, Acers might find a spot as a holding midfielder — of which there are usually two in a 3-5-2 formation — and that will allow Clark to find space for his precociously talented sophomore class, three of whom play in midfield.

"We play up to five sophomores at a time which is unheard of here," Clark said. "But they are that talented and it's been fun to watch them grow."

Pat Genereau, Spencer Rousseau and Drake Schramm are the three tenth-graders in the middle.

"They have to adjust to the physicality of the game at this level and the speed at this level," Clark said. "But they are figuring it out and since they aren't fully developed young men just yet; they have struggled at times. But they're all good players and they knock the ball around beautifully in the midfield like seasoned seniors at times."

Tough tests are coming — the team plays Duluth East at Ordean on Thursday and faces Ashland on Saturday.

"I hope that this game is a turning point," Clark said. "The players were so confident on the ball tonight and they showed that they're understanding how we like to play."

"We don't want to pass the ball so much that we forget what the object of the game is," Clark added. "We have two big players in the middle and it's up to our wide midfielders to give them service with the ball. When they do that we are a tough team to stop."