So…that’s what I call it. If you watch the US Women play, I am sure you notice the regularity with which lofted crosses are served in hopes of careening off of Abby Wambach’s head. Against the Japanese, it appeared to be our only tactic. (Yes, there was a long ball goal — any team will take those shots too). By and large, we pinned our hopes on Wambach’s now famous noggin. How did we get to this?
Watch the Olympic qualifying matches and you will see. Be on the lookout for the number of references to our “athleticism” and “height advantage.” The commentators at the World Cup last summer sounded like they were measuring football players at a combine. Why, in the men’s game, are the best players in the world under 5’8″ while in the women’s game, we still resort to uncanny predictors like height and strength? In the prosperous country we live, are we resorted to resting our female soccer advantage on how tall or strong someone is? That is so not-soccer.
(Oddly enough, size was the way teams’ chances of success were measured in the past –whichever team had the most weight in stones was considered the favorite — it, however, did not predict the success of the smaller Scottish squad that defeated the heavier and favored English in the first international friendly; mind you, that was over 100 years ago).
I recall watching the game against Japan and, on more than one occasion, a midfielder or forward had an opportunity to attack the middle of the goal — with the Japanese pressure backpedaling. Time and again, rather than look for a soft through in the middle, our players “drifted” to the side then “lifted” the ball into Abby’s head. Abby would even drift to the optimal heading spot given the angle of her server’s drift. I dubb it the “Drift and Lift” offense (you heard it here first!). While it can result in cool goals, I generally hate it. Can you imagine Xavi opting to drift wide of the goal then lofting a ball into the air to a player in the box surrounded by defenders (hopefully one of his)? The greatest team in the World right now specializes in attacking the goal with short, soft through balls mixed with diagonal runs. That is the soccer I want to watch.
Now, in today’s press, is the line that got me thinking of the Drift & Lift. The US Women are switching to a 4-2-3-1 (4-5-1) in lieu of their 4-4-2 in an effort to play more possession-based soccer. Here is the quote:
“As they begin defense of their Olympic gold, the U.S. women will unveil a new formation, a 4-2-3-1 meant to foster the possession-oriented style and encourage players to interchange positions more than the 4-4-2 they were using.” USA Today, January 17, 2012. 4-2-3-1 v. Drift & Lift?
Great news indeed! Abby is still up top, but now maybe we can look in the middle of the field for space to attack instead of racing (or retreating) to the sides. Great news for up and coming young women soccer players who, while not necessarily gifted in height, can create, attack, possess, etc. Some locally come to mind. . . Taking size out of the equation opens the door to honest assessment of talent. It may also mean the US Women playing a Marta-styled player at attacking mid rather than holding mid. Again, a local player comes to mind…
To be fair, I am not against size in soccer. I just like to think of soccer as the pure sport that celebrates creativity, talent, athleticism, and speed regardless of size. Too many sports place too much emphasis on one or the other. You have heard it before — “too short for basketball, volleyball…too small for football…” etc. Soccer takes on all – tall or short, big or small — the only price to admittance is ability to control a ball with your feet and create. While soccer’s god does have an alter (Speed), greatness can be found with players lacking even that quality. (Now, if you can combine speed and quickness (they are different) with balance and agility, throw in passion for the game with equal parts of competitive fire, a dash of IQ, and even some humility and willingness to learn and be taught, presto….you have a star.)