US Men Fail to Qualify — Concede goal from 30 yards with seconds left to tie

In a heartbreaking turn of events, the US U23 Men surrounded a 3-2 lead with 3 minutes to play to tie El Salvador. The US team, after overcoming a 2-1 deficit and an early injury (requiring them to use a precious sub early), surrendered a last second goal to level the match and costing the US U23 team an advancement spot.

Heartbreaking. The team was just seconds away. Some will take this result and call for Porter’s head. Some will continue to criticize the current soccer regime in our country. I disagree. If we don’t concede a 30 yard goal in waning seconds (if the keeper isn’t fooled by a bounce), no one has this discussion and everyone today is talking about the plucky comeback win.

Caleb Porter is emphasizing possession in attack. Was he hurt by the early injury? Absolutely. He is running a 4-3-3 scheme that depends on subs later to keep fresh legs on the wings. I am not making excuses for him. Possibly Porter’s more difficult tactical mistakes came in the Canada game, but Porter is pushing soccer where it needs to be pushed — mastery over the ball and possession. I hope he survives this loss and is not another in a long list of former U20 US coaches who get fired based on a tournament result. Again, how funny that if the keeper saves the ball, the US win 3-2 and advance an no one is talking about this today.

Us v El Salvador Highlights

U23 Men’s Update – Canada used 4-3-2-1 to beat U.S. Possession

I am interested in Caleb Porter and his success in our U23s.  I love the philosophy he has – winning with possession.  In’s writeup of Canada’s stunning 2-0 upset of the US Men’s U23 team, Porter talks about the tactical difference Canada used, their switch to a 4-3-2-1 to clog up the midfield and frustrate the US possession-attack approach.  Here is what Porter said:

“They set up in a Christmas tree, 4-3-2-1, and it’s not a shape they’ve used…That’s a shape you use to really stop a team and they did that to shut us down.. . It was essentially 3 vs. 5 in the middle.”  (Post-game news conference)

If you ever wondered how tactics and formations can shape a game, this would be a good example.  I have noted on this blog Jonathan Wilson’s great book Inverting the Pyramid where he chronicles the changes in soccer tactics and formations.  As he states, many tactical and shape changes are made in response to someone else’s success.  In this case. Canada, after watching the US U23 Men thrash Cuba 6-0, decided on a new formation to counter the US success.  If you are wondering what the perspective of the successful US midfielder was, here is Joe Corona’s post-game observation:  “They had the two center backs there, two holding midfielders right in front of me, so it was tough to get a rhythm in the middle of the park.”  He also mentioned that the formation by Canada enabled the US to have 2 v. 1 on the flanks but that they did not exploit that well enough.  Corona said: “In that type of game, if the team is going to play that way then you have to beat them wide and I didn’t think we created enough.”

The US Men are now in danger of not qualifying for the Olympics and need a result against El Salvador tonight.  Check in and support these guys.  Here is the information for tonight’s game:  The US Men’s U-23 National Team plays its critically important last Group A game in the CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying tournament. With Saturday’s loss to Canada, the US must defeat El Salvador to advance to the semifinals. Kick off is set for 8:00 p.m. CT Monday March 26 from LPF Field in Nashville, Tenn. The match is televised live on the Universal Sports Network, Mun2 and Fans can also follow the match live via’s MatchTracker.  

Quotes from post-game conference taken from this article on  And here is a link to my prior blog post reviewing Jonathan Wilson’s superb book Inverting the Pyramid: The History of Football Tactics (Orion, 2008):



US Men’s U-23 Winning Barcelona-Style

Caleb Porter, the USMN U-23 team coach, is implementing a possession-attack oriented offense at the US Men’s U23 levels.  He is also currently the head soccer coach at Akron, a college soccer powerhouse.  While our senior team has beaten Mexico before, we seldom do it while dominating possession.   His system is based on possession, attacking, and pressing.  Sounds like Ajax in the early 70s or Barcelona today.  Ives Galarcep, a senior writer for and a person who covers the MLS and the US National team, wrote some nice pieces about Caleb Porter and the style of play he teaches.  He quotes Porter:

“I think everybody’s scared to attack, and scared to play, and scared to have the ball and not score, and scared to press…I think if you just take the easy way out and you sit behind the ball and defend, that’s the easy thing.  That’s what everybody’s done and tried.  I’m going to try something new, something different, and I’m confident that it will work.  He continued: “To play this way you have to be technical. To play this way you have to want to have the ball. . . You basically have to have 11 guys on the field that are comfortable on the ball. Eleven guys on the field that are comfortable with pressing. It takes a well-rounded player, but I think there’s no reason why it shouldn’t be effective.”  You can add the word “here” after “effective” to add emphasis.

Here is another gem:  “The essence of this style is that you are the deciding team. I would rather be the deciding team and be proactive and go into a game trying to control it than to flip a coin and sit back and hope you can hit a team on the counter. . . We need more of that because we’re not helping ourselves by just defending and destroying and sitting back. Even though you can win that way, it’s not going to help grow the sport.”

Wow.  I seriously love this guy.  If you have read any of the postings on this blog, you will know I prefer a possession-based soccer attack.  The new US Youth Soccer Coaching guidelines also favor it — as I have noted and published here.  It is great to see our national teams winning with possession.

Porter’s U-23 men’s team recently beat Mexico’s U23s handily 2-0, dominating possession.  Yesterday, they handed Cuba a 6-0 defeat while starting their qualifying run to the Olympics.

Here is a link to Galarcep’s pre-Cuba game article:  And here is the link to the post-Cuba 6-0 win article:  In the Cuba game, the US out shot the Cubans 7-1 (on goal) while also recording 17 goal attempts to the Cubans 4.

Coaching Progressions: Trapping & Dribbling

Communication is an essential tool for someone training young kids to play soccer.  Just as essential, I believe, is for the trainer to have an understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of the players with whom he is working.  Training sessions with diverse skill levels are detrimental to the skill development of all the players involved.  One thing trainers need to do is to ensure that training sessions are built with the skill of the kids involved.  And, as mentioned, avoid placing weaker kids with stronger kids for training purposes regardless of age.  Some clubs are going to a data system where each child is rated for soccer ability and athleticism, given a score, and then placed in a training group consistent with that score (not based on age).  This ensures all kids are in groups where they are challenged and can excel.

But, that is not the point I wanted to discuss.  I mentioned before how coaches sometimes give instructions that, as we say in the legal business, assumes facts not in evidence.  What I mean is that coaches will tell kids to pass in games, but the kids lack the ability to catch.  If they cannot catch the ball, how can they pass the ball?  My experience with kids is that if they have the ball with time and space, they generally do something smart with it.  From my observations, one of the main reasons young players lack time and space with the ball is because (1) they lack mastery over the ball so that when a ball is presented to them (from a teammate or a loose ball), they lack the ability to control it quickly, and (2) they lack the ability to run off the ball to open space where they can receive it with time and space.  Note in (2), a proper catch is still required.   We can save (2) for another day.

I noticed this with my girls’ team in year 2 – at our first Houston tournament.  When you play better teams, your players’ time and space gets squeezed.  My girls just couldn’t get a clean handle on the ball, thus, rarely had it with the time and space they needed to do something helpful with it.  From then on, we worked on traps.  All kinds.  Trapping rollers, bouncers, line drives, punts.  You name it.  Even then, I lacked an understanding of the technique to properly teach the technique.  Through research, assistance from other coaches (thank you Hector Leano and Dan Ducote!), and trial and error, our system was/is:  (1) relaxed foot (angled 45 degrees to ground) (we called it a “loose tooth”), (2) foot slightly off the ground where contact with center of the ball is likely, and (3) encouragement to catch the ball in front of your body, not underneath.  The whole system was referred to as “peanut butter feet” as opposed to “concrete feet.”  Not sure why.  It just fit.

I still use those lessons today.  While there are more advanced methods of trapping, I encourage all the kids to get that basic one down.  As they get older, they are taught to keep the ball moving or touch the ball to space instead of trapping it at your feet.  I think it is helpful if you are under duress when the ball is approaching, but I think there are still a lot of moments in a soccer game where you need to collect the ball at your feet.  I delay teaching the “touch to space” trap because the kids do it anyway — they just don’t know where it is going.  In other words, most kids lack the ability to control the ball so every time they go to trap it, it is bouncing 5 yards away.  First, they need to learn to kill it at their feet, then we teach them “touch away” trap.  It goes back to my first point — many kids lose time and space because their first touch on the ball is too heavy and it bounds away – turning what was their ball into a 50/50 ball (or even a 60/40 ball).  In any event, instead of scanning the field with the ball at their feet or proceeding to dribble, the kids are left chasing after a ball.  Once they can kill the ball at their feet, then I move on to more advanced stuff.  So, my coaching progression for trapping is mastery at foot first.

For dribbling, I start with a few basics: (1) use one foot, and (2) touch it every step.  I have watched the U6 training videos and read material, but I fail to see the advantage of teaching two footed dribbling at 5-7 years old.  The reason I think it is a waste of time is because that is how they dribble anyway — penguin dribbling.  All of them do it.  Just like all of them advance the ball well in advance of where they are going.  While I think it is crucial to work on the weak foot from early ages for trapping, shooting, and passing, most people use a favorite foot to dribble through adult soccer, including professionals.  And, for speed dribbling (advancing the ball further than 1 step), they all do it anyway.  I think time is better used teaching them to pick a foot, touch it every step, and then teaching them all the different parts of the foot they can use.   When kids develop and get the idea of (1) and (2), I encourage (3) using laces to contact ball as the next progression.  A good way to get them to understand it is to tell them to raise their knee.  Once we get through that, the sky is the limit and they need to use all parts of their foot.

I have been teaching soccer for 7 years to kids, most of whom are not my own.  I have found that the progressions outlined above help the kids succeed incrementally.  The key to both points is mastery over the ball.  I think also juggling helps both trapping and dribbling as it helps to gain mastery over the ball.   In all 7 years, I have worked primarily with kids under the age of 12.  I have 5 kids of my own, currently ages 6-14.  All of my kids play.  I have worked with kids of all skill levels — from some of the most skilled in Texas to beginners.  I have learned from all of them and am always looking for fresh ideas to help.   If you have some ideas that you think are helpful on this issues, please post them so we can share them.