Archive for the ‘professional soccer’ Category

World Cup ‘Towers’ Worth Watching: Fernando and José Torres

June 2, 2010

Had you asked me two years ago who my favorite player was, it would have been Fernando Torres of Liverpool and Spain. Similar to Italy’s Luca Toni in height, size, and a nose for the goal, every time Fernando touched the ball inside the opponent’s penalty area, he seemed to give himself a chance to score.

Injuries slowed him down this season and with it, Liverpool’s season. The good news (bad news for opponents) is that it looks like he is recovered and rested and will be ready to play for Spain in South Africa. How affective he will be is anyone’s guess. But if he is near 100%, it may be the year of “El Niño.”

But this year’s World Cup may also be the year of “El Gringo!” American José Francisco Torres who plays for Pachuca in the Mexican professional league (that’s how he got his nickname) may also be poised to do great things in South Africa. Unlike Spain’s Torres, José Torres is a midfielder and a very good one at that. A midfielder is a team’s quarterback and normally dictates the action on the field.

I have not seen José Torres play much but what I saw in the U.S. game against Turkey was impressive.

  • He has great ball control. His dribbling in tight quarters is superb.
  • He receives the ball so well. The ball settles so softly onto his feet.
  • He is always running to the open space and asking for the ball. This is the telltale signs of a natural midfielder.
  • Though it appears he favors his left foot, he is equally adept with both feet.
  • His head is always up. He is constantly surveying the field, looking for his teammates, knows where the nearest opponents are, and you can tell he is always thinking two or three moves ahead.

This year’s World Cup is going to be exciting. Hopefully both Torres’ do well. If “El Gringo” does well, look for the U.S. to be very successful.

Advertisements

MLS Strike Averted: Now Watch and Learn

March 21, 2010

Now that the Major League Soccer (MLS) season will start March 26, the U.S. men’s chances of doing well in the upcoming 2010 World Cup have dramatically improved. A number of U.S. national players play in the MLS. Any work stoppage and subsequent lack of playing time would have negatively impacted these players and the U.S. national team. Now I really can’t wait for the June 12 game against England.

Along with the women’s professional league (WPS) getting underway April 10, it is important for youth soccer players to watch and see professional players in action. Youth players who happen to live near a professional soccer team should be encouraged to attend a live match. If there is no professional team close by, players should watch a game on TV. A lot can be learned by watching professional players. In fact, watching any older team play, from high school on up, is an excellent learning opportunity for youth players. If youth players are only exposed to soccer at a peer level and coaches (no offense) who themselves have never played soccer, they will never know or see how soccer can and should be played.

One of the most successful marketing campaigns of all time was the, “I Want to be Like Mike” Gatorade campaign. Which child doesn’t want to be someone famous or someone they see as larger-than-life? Who doesn’t want to be a princess, a Marine, Julia Roberts, or Michael Jordan? By exposing youth players to professional soccer, they will soon start learning from and emulating Abby Wambach and Landon Donovan. In turn, they will improve as soccer players.

Besides encouraging and exposing youth players to professional soccer matches, the following activities will also get players more excited about soccer.

  • During practice, have the small-sides games between the FC Gold Pride and Atlanta Beat.
  • Give each player a nickname based on a name of a professional player who plays his/her position(s).
  • Name the team after an MLS or WPS team (Sky Blue is pretty cool).
  • Have a team party on June 12 when the U.S. men’s national team takes on and (fingers crossed) beats England. Should that happen, the win will become this generation’s do-you-remember-where-you-were sporting moment just like the ‘Miracle-On-Ice’ was my generation’s moment.

Pre- and Post-Game Sportsmanship Rituals

March 11, 2010

When I played in West Germany as a first, second, and third grader, I was chosen to be a captain one year. At the time, there was a tradition that both teams followed before and after each game. Before the game:

  1. The home and away captains, followed by the respective starting goalies and then the rest of the players (no coaches) walked to the center of the field separated by the half-way line.
  2. When the team captains reached the center of the field, the teams stopped and faced each other.
  3. Then the home captain said the following cheer, “Wir begrüßen unsere Gegner mit einem dreifachen Hip Hip … Hurra, Hip Hip … Hurra, Hip Hip … Hurra”. Translated, the captain declared, “We welcome our opponents with three cheers.” Then the whole team got involved. The captain said, “Hip-hip” and the rest of the team responded with, “Hoo-rah” in unison. This was done three times.
  4. Then the opposing captain and team repeated the same cheer.

After the game, the teams again lined up across from each other. The captains and teams took turns declaring, “Wir bedanken uns bei unseren Gegnern mit einem dreifachen Hip Hip …. Hurra,  Hip Hip … Hurra, Hip Hip … Hurra”. Translated: “We thank our opponents with three cheers … hip-hip, hoo-rah … hip-hip, hoo-rah … hip-hip … hoo-rah”.

I think it is fantastic that many teams engage in a ceremonial handshake at the end of games. It teaches players good sportsmanship. It also allows players and teams to put aside disagreements or hard feelings that may have percolated during the game. It is important to learn to leave these feelings on the field.

I also love what professional teams do before a game. Players walk onto the field hand-in-hand with youth soccer players. Both teams face and salute the crowd. Then one team moves down the line, first shaking the hands of the referees followed by the hands of the opponents. Once the first team is done, the opponents shake the hands of the referees.

I strongly encourage leagues to formally adopt some sort of pre- and post-game ritual.

  • It should be done for all games, regardless if it is a scrimmage or a state championship game.
  • It sets the right tone for the game as well as after the game.
  • It gives the players an opportunity to acknowledge parents and fans (and vice versa).
  • It teaches players good sportsmanship.
  • The ‘pomp and circumstance’ makes the games more meaningful and memorable.

Are there other pre- and post-game rituals that leagues engage in? Readers of ‘Improving Soccer in the United States’ would love to hear about them.

USA vs. Netherlands (1:2) — Statistics Show it Could Have Been Worse

March 4, 2010

I watched the USA vs. Netherlands game today. The U.S. did not do too well (granted several likely World Cup starters did not play and the U.S. was playing the team ranked third in the world). Though the scoring chances did not reflect it, the first half was dominated by the Dutch. Jonathan Bornstein gave up a silly penalty and was lucky not to be called for a second one when he unintentionally handled the ball in the penalty area. The 0-1 was a just half-time score although if you look at the statistics I compiled (more on those shortly), the U.S. was lucky to be down only one goal.

In the second half, the U.S. showed more urgency but so too did the Dutch. The U.S. was very unlucky in conceding the second goal but made up for it with a beautiful header by Carlos Bocanegra. 23-year-old Dutchman Eljero Elia sure is a good player. He was all over the field today. The U.S. was fortunate to lose by only one goal.

The statistics I referred to earlier are shown below. They are the same type of touch-statistics I compiled for the 2010 MVP tournament for which the inside-of-the-foot was crowned champion (MVP stands for most-value-part).

The Dutch completely dominated the first half in terms of touches (see below). They more than doubled the number of U.S. touches: 769 (71%) – 317 (29%). When looking strictly at feet touches, the percentages are even higher (see yellow cells). I contend that controlling the ball with the feet gives players more control than with other parts of the body.

I also contend that using the inside-of-the-foot to control a ball, whether it is to receive, pass, or shoot, gives players far more control of the ball than other parts-of-the-foot. While both the U.S. and Dutch used the inside-of-the-foot a majority of the time (see yellow cells), the Dutch did so with much more frequency.

  • Dutch: receiving-73%, passing-76%, shooting-100%
  • Dutch: receiving-60%, passing-62%, shooting-33%

I’m not sure if these statistics prove anything (I did not compile statistics for the 2nd half because it takes a long time to do so and I wanted to get this post published in a timely manner). However, today the Dutch were the dominant team and they did exhibit very good ball control.

Author’s Notes:

I believe that poor ball control and a lack of emphasis placed on using the inside-of-the foot are the biggest problems facing U.S. youth soccer. If you concur and believe that the inside-of-the-foot is soccer’s MVP, please join the “Inside-of-the-Foot Soccer Fan Club” on Facebook.

I compiled these statistics as follows:

  • I watched the game on ESPN2.
  • I only counted touches that were televised.
  • If I could not tell which body part or surface was used, I did not count the touch (this included when more than one player was playing the ball).
  • If there was a one-touch pass, it was counted only as a pass, not a reception (under receiving).
  • Headers were counted as passes when the intention was there. Otherwise, headers fell under ‘receiving’.

Silver Lining to Aaron Ramsey’s Broken Leg

February 28, 2010

There was an ugly injury in the EPL this Saturday (February 27, 2010). A hard tackle by Stoke’s Ryan Shawcross resulted in a gruesome leg injury for Arsenal’s Aaron Ramsey. Aaron, a very promising young midfielder, is certainly done for the season and probably the calendar year. Let’s hope he is able to recover and resume his career at the same high level.

A silver lining you ask?

  • Though the tackle was hard, there was no way Ryan wanted to injure Aaron like he did. He was truly remorseful on the field and after the game. It was a nice gesture that he went to Aaron’s side after being shown the red card. It was also nice to see Ryan accept his red card punishment without argument. Too many players will argue a dismissal even after blatantly and intentionally fouling another player.
  • Referee, Peter Walton, handled the situation very well. He acted swiftly in issuing the red card. It was also great that he read the situation correctly and allowed Ryan to apologize to Aaron on the field.
  • The rest of the players, especially the Arsenal players, could have easily lost their cool. They did not. I think they understood that this was not Ryan’s intention.

No one ever wants to see that type of injury. But at least good sportsmanship and cool heads prevailed. Here’s to a speedy and full recovery Aaron.

Freddie Adu: 2-for-2

February 19, 2010

Freddie Adu has now scored twice in both games he has started in for his Greek club Aris. The latest goal came in a 3-0 victory against Skoda Xanthi. Once again, he scored the goal with the inside-of-the-foot.

Let’s see how long he can keep both streaks going … scoring in games he starts and scoring with the inside-of-the-foot.

Be sure to check out the video.

Freddie Adu Scores a Stóchos

February 16, 2010

It was nice seeing Freddie Adu score a stóchos (goal) in his first start for his new Greek club, Aris. It turned out to be the game winner as well. Freddie did not disappoint. He scored his goal with the inside-of-the-foot.

When I was coaching my son’s U10 team, the team went to watch Freddie and his D.C. United play the San Jose Earthquakes. I forget who won the game and whether or not Freddie scored a goal. But what I do remember are the boys yelling, “We want Freddie! We want Freddie!”

However, my son remembered. He said the score was 2-2 and Freddie was a very late substitute. I guess that is why all the boys’ voices were hoarse after the game.

That was a fun outing. We tailgated before the game. The boys played pickup games with other kids they met. After 5+ years, my son still remembers the evening fondly.

Attending a soccer match, whether it is a professional, college, or even a high school game, is a great and memorable experience for young players. It is a terrific way for them to bond outside of the regular practice or game setting. Hopefully they get an opportunity to meet some of the players after the game and get some autographs.

As a coach, your players are bound to pick up a few pointers by watching the game. Throughout the year, make sure to refer to certain plays you and the players saw at this match to help reinforce what you are teaching in practice. Seeing and repeating what good players do is a great way for young players to get better.

Thanks Freddie and continued good fortune. Hope to see you playing in World Cup 2010 this summer in South Africa.

Gol TV’s Top 100 Goals for 2009

December 31, 2009

I just finished watching Gol TV’s top 100 goals for 2009. Here are my thoughts:

  • 10-12 were chip shots over the goalie. I love it when players play with their heads up and are aware of their surroundings.
  • 6-8 where beautiful bicycle kicks. I never get tired of seeing these beautiful goals.
  • I never remember seeing goals scored like this when I was younger. The long-distance shots are just incredible.
  • 10-12 of the goals were from free kicks. While these goals are a thing of beauty, they are all pretty much the same.
  • I did not see any goals from the Premier League … I guess Gol TV does not carry the rights to show or telecast those games.
  • What about headers? Though I am not a big fan of headers at the youth level, there is nothing prettier than seeing goals scored off of headers that are low and in the corners. I guess Gol TV does not agree.
  • I do agree with the #1 for 2009. The nerve, audacity, and boldness Grafite displayed in attempting his back-heel shot is phenomenal. The lead-up to the shot is pretty good as well. It is a well-deserved honor.

Penalty Kicks Decide U20 World Cup

October 16, 2009

Congratulations Ghana! To beat powerhouse Brazil playing a majority of the game down 1 man … well deserved. With Ghana having qualified for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, July 2010 can’t come soon enough for the entire African continent.

The game came down to penalties. Brazil had an opportunity to win but could not convert when it counted. The result of this game reinforces an earlier post about penalties. They have to be kicked on the ground, with decent force, and hit the side netting. Otherwise, a player and team is asking for trouble.

I have embedded a video clip below and below it, I have added my commentary along with the time the kicks appear in the video and a score for each kick. There is no video with all the kicks but the video I have shows all the misses.

Alan Kardec (Brazil)
Best Brazilian penalty in the shootout … hard, on the ground, and hit the side netting. The goalie guessed correctly but never could have saved the kick (Score–10).

Ayew (Ghana)
The kick was high. The Brazilian goalie guessed correctly and actually got his fingers on the ball. Because kicking the ball high into the net has the danger of going over, the score is lower (7).

Guiliano (Brazil)
Same comments as the previous kick (7).

Inkoom (Ghana)
The kick was once again high but had the goalie guessed correctly, the kick could not have been saved. (8).

D. Costa (Brazil)
Same comments as the previous kick (8).

4:40–Mensah (Ghana)
Terrible kick. It was 1 foot off the ground and worse, only 4 feet in from the center of the goal. My 94-year old grandmother would have saved that kick (1).

5:00–Souza (Brazil)
Just an average kick that was saved. Once again, it was 1 foot off the ground but not close enough to the side netting. The Ghanaian keeper started to employ a clever tactic because his team was down and he needed to make a save. Just before the kick, he took a big step to his right. By guessing correctly, he was able to make the easy save (4).

5:16–Addae (Ghana)
Another poor kick. It was slightly better than the previous Ghanaian kick because it was on the ground and a little further toward the corner. But there was not much force behind the kick. My 94-year old grandmother would have had trouble with this kick but my 10-year old would have saved it (3).

5:45–Maicon (Brazil)
This one was for the Championship but the Brazilian kicked it over the goal.  As I have posted before, you can’t kick the ball over the goal if the ball is kicked on the ground. I’m willing to bet that Maicon was worried that the goalkeeper was going to take that same big step before the kick and therefore felt it necessary to kick the ball higher. Once a player changes how he/she is going to take the penalty, the odds of a miss increase dramatically. In this case, had the penalty been a kick on the ground and into the side netting, Brazil would have been the Champs (3).

6:03–Adiyiah (Ghana)
With all the pressure on Adiyiah, he scores. The penalty was similar to Ghana’s first kick but because of the pressure, I’m giving it an extra point (8).

6:35–Teixeira (Brazil)
Brazil’s third miss in a row. The kick was about 2 feet off the ground and halfway between the center of the goal and the post. Once again the goalie took 1 big step in the correct direction and saved the penalty easily (3).

6:57–A. Badu (Ghana)
Badu saved the best Ghanaian penalty kick for last … low, hard, and in the corner. Even if the Brazilian keeper had guessed correctly, he never would have saved the kick (10).

Congratulations Ghana and Brazil for making it to the finals. See you in about 9 months.