A view from my side.
Another successful night at Team Camp. A session on defending with numbers down was on order. As I told the boys, our attack will throw numbers forward, aggressively attacking the goal. Our offense will be designed to get the ball behind our opponents defenders quickly and our off the ball runs (tonight’s session) will give us the numbers we need to overwhelm our opponent. Of course, that’s how it will be “designed.” How well they execute that design remains to be seen.
The big problem with that idea is it leaves us vulnerable to counter attacks. So last night I had our mid fielders sprint from the top of our opponent’s 18 to the top of our 18, roughly 80 yards. It took on average around 12 seconds. An eternity when having to defend numbers down. But it is what it is and that’s the time we worked with. After some small 3 v 2 drills working on the concepts of delay and contain defending, I put our defenders into a 6 v 3 situation and had them defend the goal for 12 seconds. I let the strikers and midfielders start with the ball at the center stripe and started the watch.
The key to this type of defending is to be patient. Over the years, most of these boys have been taught to pressure the ball quickly and take it away. That often results in biting on a striker’s moves, stabbing at the ball and getting beat. What they need to understand is that when faced with a numbers down situation, they need to be patient. They need to delay the attack, slow it down and give their teammates the time they need to recover from the attack and get into position to defend the goal. This means giving up ground, letting the strikers take some territory while denying them the opportunity to shoot or cross. Force them outside of the box, keep their head down on the ball, make them more concerned with losing the ball than they are with getting off the shot or cross. It’s relatively easy to do, but goes counter to a lot of what their other coaches have taught them over the years. Waiting for 12 seconds seems like an eternity to them.
The defenders held up well surprisingly well. They were able to delay the attack, forcing the ball wide of the goal, denying the chance to shoot straight on at the goal. They covered the goal area well, clearing most of the crosses that the keeper was unable to grab. Once they bought into the concept of “I don’t have to win the ball” every time, they were able to hold off 6 attacking players with just three defenders. Focusing on forcing the ball away from the goal, taking away the angle on any shot, and maintaining the proper spacing in front of the goal they were able to keep the ball from finding the back of the net.
We did this 6 v 3 for 12 seconds for about 20 minutes. The attacking group got quite a few shots off, but most were wide or off the end line. Those that were on frame were either intercepted by a defender or saved by our keeper. They did score twice, early in the exercise. After making the appropriate adjustments and getting the defenders to focus on being patient, the ball failed to find the back of the net again.
The last 30 minutes of the evening we scrimmaged another team in our age bracket (U18) that plays in a higher Division than we do. They are organized, they are skilled and they are fast. They controlled most of the possession but were thwarted and frustrated by our defenders. Our midfielders made them play quicker than they wanted to and we were able to intercept many of those forced balls. Our defenders did not “bite” on the attacking players moves and stab at the ball or try to take it away. They were patient and they were able to force the ball wide, creating difficult angles for the attacking team.
The result? At the end of the 30 minute scrimmage we were tied, 1-1. Their goal came from a cross off the end line back toward the PK spot which we failed to step to. We allowed the shot to happen and you simply can’t give a player that much time on the ball in the box. Step to him, deny his shot and make him release it wide or back.
Our goal came on a break away. Our opponent got caught with numbers forward and we cleared a ball high and wide. Our midfielder combined with two very speedy strikers and we were in a 3 v 2 situation. Their defenders were caught off guard and stabbed at the ball, trying to win it early. We got around them and the rest was easy. It was a clear example of defenders being anxious…being impatient, and as a result, getting beat.
I’d call the night a success. The boys got to see both sides of virtues of being patient. We were able to hold off and frustrate a much more talented team by being patient. We were also able to take advantage of their defenders lack of patience and overly aggressive defending. Surviving the attack and scoring that goal taught the boys both sides of the idea that Patience is the Key.