Tag Archives: Olympics

Do the US Women Pass too Much?

I enjoy watching the US Women team play.  They are the top of the heap of soccer for women.  And, being American, it is nice to be able to always be the favorite — even when you are playing European teams!  At the same time, I think there is an argument that they could be even better if they handled the ball more.

It was impressive to see the US Women start the New Zealand game with the amount of pressure they applied.  Everywhere NZL went, the US pressed them farther.  That stood out.  What also stood out was the speed of movement when we had the ball — I am not referring to the movement of the players, I am referring to movement of the ball.  Generally speaking, the USWNT exercise one-touch passing.  While all directions are explored, the only real areas they seem interested in are forward and wide.  Almost every pass played backwards is followed by a long ball up.  The right back, for instance, played it long the following times she had the ball played back to her (I only charted the first 33 minutes):

10:34  drop then long ball led to loss of possession

11:19  drop to right back and sent up (long) – maintained possession

19:00  right back played another long that led to loss of possession

21:43  right back played another long that led to loss of possession

27:33  right back turned the ball over again

I only started charting at the seventh minute – in the note on the 10:34 entry, I note that it was the fourth time the backs had played long resulting in loss of possession.   This is all interesting, but not the real point of the blog tonight.  I just wanted to point out that  there is no such thing as playing the ball out from our backs.  And, as I have written before, the argument between territory and possession, I prefer possession unless you can have a shot off the long service.

Getting back to dribbling, there were several instances in the first 1/3 of the game where a player had the ball and space.  Given that situation, why pass?  If the pass is a killer pass, it makes sense, but what if it is not?  What if the player has the ball and space in mouth of the goal (but outside the box)?  At the 16:34, Abby has just that situation.  Rather than press the ball into the throat of the goal (allowing a teammate to cut in behind the defense or allowing a shot), she immediately sends it wide to Rapinoe.  In this particular instance, Rapinoe crossed it immediately back in and it almost resulted in a goal (to be fair).  But, if you have the ball and space, why not require the defense (in front of the goal) to commit to you?  Abby does that at the 28:45 mark – opting to dribble instead of throw the ball wide.  The result was a fantastic through ball up the middle, in front of the goal, rather than away from it.

In the Olympic Edition of Sports Illustrated (August 6, 2012), Megan Rapinoe is profiled.  I had not read this article but as I was telling my wife about what I observed, she recommended it.  Rapinoe was one of the few Americans who at least held the ball at times.  While her moves in the first 1/3 of the game were limited to cuts and turns out wide, she at least handled the ball.  Interestingly, she is viewed as an “un-American” player.

“Truth be told, Pinoe is the most un-American player in the U.S. women’s soccer, and that’s a compliment.  For decades that U.S. has thrived on strength and speed more than skill…Rapinoe relies instead on clever dribbling, fluid movement and visionary passing…The key to her creativity, she says, was playing under Danny Cruz, her club coach at age 13 with Elk Grove United in Sacramento.

‘I don’t think he ever really told me how to play. . . He was really good about letting us make mistakes and play free. . . There are a lot of really bad coaches in the U.S. who maybe don’t focus on the right things. Sometimes creativity is stamped out at a young age.'”  (Grant Wahl, Sports Illustrated, August 6, 2012)

Funny thing — Sam Snow, US Youth Director of Coaches, says the same thing — we are coaching the game out of the players!   Do we give our players the same opportunities?

Back to the game against NZL, the first goal was created after an excellent ball through the defense (from right to left, diagonally) with which Alex Morgan held onto it.  She challenged the defender to the left of the goal, in the box.  The defender had to retreat, giving Alex space to send a superb cross (shorter range).  Abby finished it.  This was in the 26:28 minute of the game.  Alex’s challenge to beat the defender 1v1 created her space to send the cross.

And, to answer the question about passing too much.  The default in soccer, I understand, is that if there is an open teammate, we should send the ball there.  We should stretch the defense with width (and length).  But, watching Pirlo play for Italy in the Euros, there is something to be said for at least “carrying” the ball (not necessarily beating people off the dribble, but drawing defenders to you then distributing is en effective way of managing the midfield.)  If you pass the ball too quickly, it may have the opposite effect on the defense — they do not have the time to commit so they just stay in place.

We used to use a similar strategy in basketball.  At high school, while our basketball team was above average, we competed at the highest level of Texas basketball (5A).  Our coaches’ philosophy was to play zone – we usually played a 2-3.  We allowed the opposing team freedom of ball movement anywhere outside our zone — we used it for breathers.  At the same time, penetrating dribblers challenged our defense – requiring us to commit and move.

I hope that, going forward, as a new generation of soccer players are developed, that we do not default back to the strength and speed philosophy.

Olympic Soccer & the Home of the First True World Championship: Ode to Uruguay

Uruguayans World Champs (again)

I routinely follow soccer through sites like The Guardian, FoxSoccer, GiveMeFootball, as well as the Telegraph.  Most of the writers I follow are English.  I have found a general disinterest in the football tournament at the Games – a sort of apathy about the games that seems wholly out of context for the English writers.  Writers criticize the organization of the football, the quality of the football, officiating, etc.  I think it is interesting to know that soccer and the Olympics go way back…

Soccer was played as an Exhibition sport in the first Olympic games in 1896 in Athens.  While the standard bearers of the day, the English, did not participate in full (or at all), an unbalanced exhibition was at least a part of the Games.  That is more than you can say for many other sports.

Soccer continued in that role and, beginning in Paris in 1924, started attracted more competitive teams (just not the Brits – who, just as they turn their nose to it today, turned their nose to it (and any international or continental (Europe)) back then — at least they are consistent). To be fair, some British Amateurs did participate in the 1908 & 1912 games (winning) and participating in 1920.

The shock of the Paris 1924 tournament was an outfit from a tiny  country in South America – Uruguay.  While they were unheard of, they walked through the event winning 7-0 against Yugoslavia, 3-0 against the USA (their first international tournament), and beating France 5-1 to qualify for the Final against the Swiss (where 60,000 people attended).  They defeated the Swiss 3-0 to win the title.  Because the Germans, English, and the team that perceived itself the best in South America at the time (Argentina) did not play in 1924, the 1928 Games would prove the true test.

But, in the 1924 games, consider how the Uruguayans style of play was described:

“The principle quality of the victors was marvellous virtuosity in receiving the ball, controlling it and using it. They have such a complete technique that they also have the necessary leisure to note the position of the partners and team-mates. The do not stand still waiting for a pass. They are on the move, away from the markers, to make it easy for their team-mates…They have pushed towards the perfection the art of the feint and swerve and the dodge, but they also know how to play directly and quickly. They are not only ball jugglers. They created a beautiful football, elegant but at the same time varied, rapid, powerful, effective.

Quoted in The Ball is Round: A Global History of Soccer, by David Goldblatt (page 245).  He researched the material from a french writer, Gabriel Hanot, an editor of L’Equipe (a french sporting publication at the time).

The interesting thing about that quote is that it seems to describe the Spanish team today.  On to 1928…

Uruguay repeated their success in the 1928 Olympic Games in Amsterdam.  This time, more teams participated, including Argentina.  Goldblatt refers to the 1928 Olympic Games triumph, where they defeated Argentina in the final, the first true World Championship.  (page 247).  Over 60,000 people watched the final.  Olympic organizers understood that football was the main attraction of the games.  FIFA figured it out too.

Because of the popularity of the Games, FIFA met and decided on a World Cup model, to be played every four years.  The first World Cup was played in 1930 and Uruguay was chosen as the host country, where they won it as well (again over Argentina and this time in front of 80,000).  The World Cup has continued ever four years, with some suspensions because of World War II, until the present.  What happened to Uruguay?  Well, when the market collapsed in 1930, they (along with many other South American countries) traded in their democratic-socialist style regime for military dictatorship.  They lost everything.  And, for soccer, this country of 3 million did not make another appearance until the 1950 World Cup, hosted by Brazil.  The Brazilians, by then, were the heavy favorites.  Uruguay made it to the final and upset Brazil 2-1 — a heartbreaking loss for Brazil.

So…when you consider Olympic football today, set aside the marketing power of EPL and Serie A and La Liga and enjoy the show.  Know that what you are watching has a deeper history and, in fact, an original history of hosting international soccer tournaments.  If you are an English fan, enjoy rooting for Aaron Ramsey, Giggs, and other players not usually on the Three Lions. That is another story — Great Britain competed in the games, not just England!


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