An Argument against Long Goal Kicks and Adventurous Punts

Before I post this, I must confess that I love the possession game of soccer.  I applaud the U.S. for adopting new coaching standards emphasizing ball control, quick ball movement with the ball mainly played on the ground.  Even as a youth coach, the youth are better able to handle short, rolling passes as opposed to long, bounding ones.  The temptation for youth coaches, of course, is to play it long and place a fast kid up front who can get behind the defense and score to win a meaningless 10 YO game.  I think it is poor form.  While there is a time for a well-placed long ball, its overuse is preventing development of a more controlled game.  

The same is true for punting.  In youth leagues, the booming punt is a magnificent event that usually leads to possession deep in the opponent’s territory.  The reason is the inability of the back line of the defending team to stop of control the punt.  As a result, with the emphasis so often on winning at the cost of education and development, the punt is over-used at the younger levels.

Lastly, I detest long balls into crowded areas, whether from a free kick or gained possession at the back line.  It just doesn’t make sense to me.  In all of the above scenarios, you go from 100% possession to 50/50% at best.  The only time it makes sense to me is if the fee kick is inside the midfield and a ball can be sent into the box.  Lofted balls into the box may indeed net a chance on goal and, even if it doesn’t, the gains in territory into the attacking third is worth the 50/50 risk of losing possession.  I do not have a formula for it, but I recognize the risk-reward of lofted balls played into the box.  

A short word on crosses too — sometimes, like Jenkinson’s game for Arsenal against Marseille — they are simply wasted balls.  Good defensive units track backwards and are aware of the cross.  The deeper the crosser gets, the worse his angle to provide service.  In many instances, wingers or backs moving up cross without purpose or thought — sending in lofted crosses when there are 4 defenders in the box and only 1 attacker.  To me, that is another waste.   Here is Djourou’s (Jenkinson’s replacement) cross — notice how deep he was on the cross, the bend of the ball (keeps his players onside), and the angle.  Also, Ramsey did a great job of setting up his shot.  

So, I watched Arsenal v Sunderland on Sunday, October 16 and kept track of all long ball opportunities (I will call them LBOs).  What I discovered was that Arsenal played short on almost all LBOs while Sunderland almost always played long.  Here is a breakdown (my numbers may be a little off — kids interrupting):

1.  Of the 6 goal kicks I mapped for Arsenal, they played 3 short and 3 long.  Of the three long, they maintained possession only once.  
2.  Of the 7 goal kicks I mapped for Sunderland, they played long all 7 times.  They lost possession six times and once gained a throw in near the landing area.
3.  Of Free kicks (and there were a lot in this game), I counted 19 direct and indirect kicks for Arsenal.  Of those, Arsenal played short 16 times with the remaining 3 being shots on goal (25 yards and in).  Robbie van Persie scored one from 30 yards to win the match.  Interestingly, Arsenal had approximately 8 DFKs from inside 40 yards and only managed one attempt on goal (and it scored) that was threatening.  In fact, around the 51st minute, they had a DFK from around 30 yards and played it as an IFK with a short touch.  This is where I believe Arsenal was being too clever.  
4.  For Sunderland, as you can tell from the GKs, they used their DFKs to gain territory, but mostly lost possession.  I counted 7 DFKs for which they played long.  If they were within range of the goal, they would, of course play it into the box.  Of the long passes, only the one in the 56th minute seemed to be productive.  They parlayed that service into a chance at goal.  Similarly, their GK gained possession several times and, consistent with their strategy, punted deep into the field to nil effect.  In the 45th minute, they were able to penetrate deep off of a punt to create a potential chance.  Otherwise, the punts usually netted nothing.

My perceptions in this game is consistent with what I normally see.  Arsenal seldom squanders possession or dilutes a 100% ball by 50%.  At the same time, inside of 40 yards, they need to be more productive at creating chances to score.  Since they are loathe to release that ball into a crowd, they lacked production on several free kicks inside the danger area.  

Maybe it is that Sunderland felt that long ball was their best strategy.  Santos, Koscielny, and Mertesacker did a good job of preventing opportunities on the long approaches.  In any event, I do not see the justification for playing a goal kick long, or punting a ball into a crowd, or taking a DFK long into a crowd.  I do think inside of 40 yards, the ball should sometimes be played up for a chance at a header or even a rebound shot.  Just my two cents.

I have asked a couple old professional players why so many professional teams continue to do this.  I have yet to get a satisfactory answer.  Seems like there is a lot of “that’s the way it is always done” mentality to it.  Otherwise, they seem to prefer the Arsenal way.  Cheers.  

5 thoughts on “An Argument against Long Goal Kicks and Adventurous Punts”

  1. Good question. We try to play ball control, possession soccer. We can do it very well against 95% of the teams we have played. But I catch myself, when we are playing a faster, more aggressive, physical team…wanting my defense to kick it deep or my goalie to just boot it as far as she can. It’s because I know that one small mistake in the defensive third of the field can quickly result in a goal. The majority of our games against the top competition are determined by one goal.

    That “excuse” being said, I know that a great possession game must start with the defense. I watch Barcelona every chance I get. I can count on one hand the number of times they play it long from the defense or even the keeper. Heck, 80% of their corner kick they play short. It is often said that Barcelona has no defenders, they are all attacking midfielders or forwards. I think the opposite is true. They are 11 great defenders. Plus, I think the best defense is a ball control offense. The opposition can’t score if they don’t have the ball.

    For my 99’s to have a chance to defeat a top team from Challenge, Albion, or Rush, we must play a different game. True ball control, possession soccer that starts in the back and continues to the top of the box in the attacking third of the field. We are trying to get there but we have a long way to go.

    One other thought. Officials must call the game for us to be able to play possession soccer. If you are playing a bigger, faster, physically stronger team, and the referee does not protect the player with the ball, you will have to adjust your strategy. I’m finding this to be the case in Houston. For example, a kid who plays with Challenge and has worked her way to their top team…I can guarantee she is an aggressive kid. Put 11 of them on the field together and the first thing they are going to do is to try to go trough you. As a coach, you cannot allow this to go unchecked. It is very difficult to play the way we want to play if we are getting physically knocked off the ball. But that being said, it can be done.

  2. Thanks Chris. I knew I could fish some feedback from you (I already refer to you covertly on another page). I appreciate what you are doing with your squads, but it has taken me a while to evolve to see that side of the game. Like you say, "the more I learn and the better my team gets, the more I see that I need to learn and the more work I see my team needs…" I am trying to do that with U10s and younger (boys). Keep up the great work — you are a model for the rest of us.

  3. Clint. I have added you to our SSSC 99G Twister Soccer facebook page. I have invited our group to join the blog. Hopefully we can get a few to read the blog and post a few comments. Good work man! Soccer is really growing in SE Tx.

  4. I cannot disagree more.
    Why would you allow the defender to control the ball in their 1/3 when the other side would just wait for the ball to come out of the keeper box. You are consigning the game to your side of the field almost entirely when you can get the ball down the field and try to regain possession, that is IF you don’t get it. More importantly, at the developmental level, these girls cannot maintain control from one side of the field to the other like higher leagues. This would be like saying in pee-wee football, we will just run the ball 100% of the time. Why pass when we’re not good at it. It’s too hard to pass long for a small player. Silly. You develop both, the girls to go and get the ball or retrieve it. Getting the ball out of your half is the whole point of the punt. In American Football and football.

    So, to keep 100% possession at your end, but what are the chances you lose possession between your keeper box and their keeper box in attempt to score? I’d say higher that a team would lose a ball than booming it to their half and defending and defending at a part of the field when scoring chances are near 0%. Kids aren’t going to laser in a shot from 30-yards at age nine.

    Our club doesn’t allow the keeper to punt and 3 out of 4 goals scores by the opposing team is because our team fails to move the ball up far enough and the subsequent plays see them score. It is maddening.

    1. This is why we teach not to punt at our club. Learning to successfully work the ball out from the back consistently takes time, a lot of practice, and a ton of patience. But those kids who can do it will develop tremendous skill and technique, with the ability to play in tight spaces. They will also learn that:

      1.When you play it on the ground from the goal keeper, you will undoubtedly be under enormous pressure, and so they have to learn to play quick one and two touch sequences to relieve that pressure.

      2. They develop spatial awareness, because you have to learn, as a team, to use the whole field to relieve that pressure.

      3. They learn communication and anticipation skills, because the back 8 (GK, CBs, FBs, DMF, CMFs) will have to adjust to rapidly changing situations and will need to adjust their positions and support angles collectively.

      None of these things happen when the ball is punted long. All of these things are what I would call “player development”.

Love to read your thoughts...