Tag Archive: soccer

USA Defeats Italy: An Analysis

March 1, 2012 Adam Thomas

Preface: In addition to writing for TheHeadrush, I also coach high school soccer in the fall and really, really love it. Breaking down and analyzing soccer games is one of my favorite things to do come the fall, so when I watched yesterday’s match between the USA and Italy, I took some notes in order to write a column analyzing the game. Here is what I came up with…

The USA defeated Italy yesterday (USA! USA!) and I thought that I would give some thoughts on just how it was done from a strategic stand point (or at least, what I thought was going on, and hold on to your butts cause it may get a tad pretentious up in here).

The problem for Italy is that once the US went up 1-0, they really, I mean REALLY, packed it in on defense. Why was this so bad for Italy you ask? Because the Italian system of attack was not suited to deal with strong numbers in the box, and down the stretch, the Americans were packed in there like sardines.

But let’s go back a bit and explain just how Italy went about attacking the USA, and how the USA went about attacking the Italians.

Italy’s style of attack was to push the ball down the wings, and then either get deep into the American zone towards the touchline—and in doing so, turning the American defenders inside the box so they’d have to face ball being played across and the man they were marking simultaneously—or pushing the ball out to a wing and have him break on the goal or hit an early cross into the danger zone at the penalty area.

If you look at Italy’s earliest (and maybe best) opportunity to score, this is exactly what happens. They push the ball out wide, the Italian draws one on one defense, beats his defender and hits a cross from just outside the 18. (This starts :35 seconds into the video)

When he strikes the ball, there are three American defenders in the box, as opposed to just two Italian attackers.  BUT, there is a third Italian crashing hard from just outside the top of the 18 who has slipped by his American defender (who is trailing).

Guess who the ball goes to?  You guessed it. The perfectly timed run by the Italian who slipped by his man who must have fallen asleep.

When he shoots the ball, there are two helpless American defenders on either side of him (neither in front to stop the shot, although one does lunge at him) and two American defenders who are out of position to do anything (one standing flat footed at the six who tried to defense the cross and one at the top of the 18). So, even though the Americans had numbers at the beginning of the play, they didn’t when it counted most because one American got caught “ball watching” and lost his mark.

So, if you followed me this far, in summary: Italy played the ball to their wingers, and looked to score on strategically placed crosses. This was a perfectly fine system  of attack early on in the game, but it became less effective as the game wore on, and the American’s changed their defense.

In contrast, America would play the ball to their forwards in a more central position (like the top of the 18), and the forwards would hold onto the ball, post up their defenders, and then try to play the ball off to one of their teammates who was making a supporting run or a through run.

If you look at their goal, (At the 2:08 mark of the video) this is exactly what happens: ball played into Altidore at the center of the 12, Altidore holds off his man and maintains possession, Dempsey holds at the 18 before making a nice run into space and strikes the ball perfectly towards the far post for a goal.

Once the US went up 1-0, they packed their defenders inside the 18 and Italy’s best hope for a goal was either to have one of the American defenders misplay a ball or have an outside attacker get by his mark and take the ball directly at the goal. They really had little chance to score on a pure cross because their attackers would be outnumbered (usually marked 2 vs. 1). Also, remember, the touchline and sidelines are defenders as well, so when you play the ball wide AND you have a numbers disadvantage, you are really playing into the defense’s hands.

One of Italy’s better 2nd half opportunities (3:00 minutes mark of the video) came when their player had the ball at the corner of the 6, drew a RIDICULOUS 5 American defenders (none of whom got the ball) towards him and then dropped the ball back to an unmarked man at around the right side of the 12.

Luckily, his left footed shot went directly to Howard, who made the easy save. But if you pause the ESPN highlight when he makes the save (I am obviously re-watching the highlights as I write this), you will see there are 4 Italian attackers in the box (with one just outside the top of the 18 waiting for some “loose change” as Zumoff would say) compared to 7 US defenders.

So while crossing the ball in a 4 vs. 7 situation has little chance of success, having an attacker hold the ball, draw defenders to him and then lay it off for a teammate has a good chance for success, as was demonstrated by the scoring opportunity.

If you pause the highlight right after the shot, as play resumes (3:10 mark of the video), you will see 5 American defenders compacted into the area of the 18 right in front of the goal, with 1 defender challenging the ball and 2 outside defenders marking off their man on the outsides. So that puts 8 American defenders between Italy and the goal. Now, of course, Italy plays the ball wide and the attacker goes in hard towards goal, and he does have a good chance to score BUT he also has two American defenders between him and the goal. One of whom deflects it wide, and another (make that a third) crashing in towards the goal mirroring the one who hit the ball out. So it was a good scoring opportunity, but he still had to compete with three US defenders and the goalie (it pays to score first).

If you go to the 3:37 mark of the video, you will see another attack that tries to start on the outside and gets thwarted pretty easily. The Italians loft the ball to the outside, the attacker tries to go to goal, but he is quickly closed down by a defender and then has to either shoot (with no angle) or cross to ONE Italian attacker who is marked by THREE US defenders. Not good odds.

At 3:51, the Italians work the ball through to an attacker in the middle of the field, who lays it off to a teammate who quickly finds himself with SIX US defenders surrounding him. Is this bad?  Not for Italy.  The player holds the ball, finds the open man (again, a US defender was drawn towards the ball and left him wide open) who takes a strike from just outside the 18. He shanks it, yes, but it was a good goal scoring opportunity.

My final point is this: If Italy had attacked American like America was attacking Italy, I think they would’ve had a better chance to score than simply attacking from the outside. You need only look at Altidore’s goal for proof. (again at the 2:08 mark of the video).

3 Italian defenders are marking Altidore when he gets the ball, but numbers don’t matter as much when you are playing with your back to the goal and maintaining possession. Especially since one of the three defenders was the man who was supposed to be marking Dempsey but ended up leaving him to go attack Altidore, which allowed Dempsey to slip free, move into space and score.

When dealing with a team playing in a compact defensive shape, one that will always have a numbers advantage, the best bet is to play the ball to a central player, who will draw defenders to him like gnats to a light, and then find the open man for a shot on goal.


Basketball and Soccer, a European’s Dream…

June 22, 2011 Randy Neil

It’s so hard (cue Boyz II Men) to say goodbye, to Ig-uo-da-laaaaaaaaaa. Sadly, it appears as though this summer will be the last spent with Andre. With the NBA Draft starting tomorrow, rumors are flying all over the place about that man’s destination. The Clippers, the Warriors, even the Lakers??

I, for one, am going to be sad to see him go. Sure, he was never the clutch, high-flying star we all wanted him to be, but he did give you a healthy amount of assists almost every night and played great defense. Was it a mistake to throw super-star money at him and give him the role of leading the team? Of course. Andre Iguodala would show signs of great athleticism every once in a while, but it’s hard to say why it never lasted.

Do I think Andre Iguodala wanted to be the superstar of this team? At times I did. When I saw him in Reebok commercials flashing jewelry I did. When I saw him make a miracle 3-pointer at the end of a regular season game I did. When I saw him play injured throughout the playoffs I did. I don’t know what made him so timid at the end of games when everyone was staring at him to do something. I honestly will never know.

Iguodala was given a role he never fulfilled, and now, hopefully, some other team can absorb his huge salary and give him the role he’s suited for. Maybe he’ll be happier now that the pressure is off. Lord knows he’ll give some nasty dishes to Blake Griffin. So the question is : What do we get in return?

The 76ers have 2 picks in the draft, and both of them practically mean nothing. Aside from several potential picks declining to work out for our crew, the #16 and #50 picks don’t really offer anything to get excited about anyway. There are talks about Monta Ellis coming to Philly with a trade for Iguodala, but there are also rumors about Ellis being traded to Orlando for Dwight Howard, and that’s just plain not gonna happen.

The 76ers are still in talks of selling the team as well. Jim Thorn, the current owner, has already had several talks with “leveraged-buyout specialist” Joshua Harris and their New York affiliates. It looks like it’s going to happen. Not much will change though. Doug Collins is still an amazing coach. We still have an amazing core of young talent that is dangerously close to their prime. We just might not have our “superstar” with us. (single tear.)

It also appears that as lazy Americans, our time to start caring about soccer is approaching. The CONCACAF Gold Cup is down to 4 teams, and the U.S. is one of them! Tonight, we have our semifinal matchup against Panama (Carlos Ruiz’s homeland) to advance to the Finals.

Panama barely made it to the semifinals. After trailing 0-1 throughout most of the quarterfinals game, Panama was able to score in the 87th minute sending the game into overtime, where they eventually won on penalty kicks. I remember reading about that a few days ago and thinking how deflating that must be as the other team. Proving my point even more, I didn’t even bother to remember the name of the losing country or look them up now even though I have resources at my fingertips. I just can’t fathom running around for 85 minutes straight, dominating a game with victory so readily in front of me, and then in the closing minutes having that all stripped away. Aside from maybe throwing an unwarranted interception on 3rd down when your team is minutes away from going to the Superbowl (see Favre, Brett), there are few things that beat that. Especially when you are representing your country.

The important thing to note here is that the U.S. has only lost once in this entire tournament, and it was at the hands of Panama. This is going to be a daunting task for our team. Panama has been knocked out of the Gold Cup the past 3 years by the United States, so saying they’re pissed at us would be an understatement. It should be a great game tonight.

If we make it past Panama, the winner of Mexico v. Honduras will be waiting for us. It’s most likely going to be Mexico. What am I saying? It IS going to be Mexico. They have won this thing 14 times. We have been in the CONCACAF Gold Cup Finals the past 3 years and lost every one to Mexico.

That’s why I’m strongly recommend our amateur soccer fans to watch tonight’s game, as it offers a much higher probability of victory. That’s all we want anyway right? A United States soccer victory. You’ll get a chance to see Clint Dempsey do the John Cena “You can’t see me!!” hand shake over his face after scoring a goal!

Alright gang, until next week….


Here we ayah Gov’nah!

January 26, 2011 Randy Neil

I used to be the guy that didn’t give two flying f bombs about soccer. For years I’d hear about it’s revival in America, the resurgence of this amazing sport, being embraced by anyone and everyone alike. But nothing ever happened. The MLS helped no one except retired pro’s from Europe.

And then something happened…. I played Fifa 10 for PS3. It seemed as though God managed to take time from granting athletes and rappers special skills to design a video game that captured everything that was good and great about soccer. I became addicted. I played night and day for hours on end, and still do. I went from pretty much only watching the World Cup Finals match with much disinterest, to watching Premiere League matches every Wednesday on ESPN2.

Did I sink to a new low or new high? Who knows, all I know is that soccer has slowly creeped into my pallet of sports to become obsessed with. I can now act like an arrogant piece of Euro trash because I consider myself slightly cultured, and will finally be accepted at Home Grown. I may even buy a soccer jersey. GO CRAZY!

So, bask, my friends, bask in the talent that is Didier Drogba. This highlight came last week :

That’s right. Camm owwn. Camm owwn then. Right-o.


US Soccer Signs Another Foreign Star

July 14, 2010 Randy Neil

altSo, it seems as though the Major League Soccer has become the grazing pasture when former international stars are put out to stud, so to speak.  Earlier today, Thierry Henry signed a contract with MLS’s New York Red Bulls after being cut from Barcelona for scoring a meager 4 goals last year. 

Henry has an incredibly impressive resume with Barcelona and his former club team Arsenal.  Aside from winning two Premier League Championships in 04′ and 07′, he also was awarded 6 different trophies in 2009 including the Champions League.  With the international French team, he won one World Cup in 1998 and the European Championship in 2000.  Whew.

Thierry Henry’s most recent endeavors have not been met with the same amount of success though, sadly.  The controversial ‘handball’ incident that prevented Ireland from being in the World Cup this year was pretty much all Henry’s fault, when he used his hand to guide the ball to his feet to score a goal.

His lackluster season with Barcelona also contributed to him being cut, so he has seeked refuge where it seems more and more players are finding these days, the MLS.  

Good for American soccer, good for him I suppose, so I look at it as a positive.  He’s still a great soccer player with a resume that can’t be taken lightly.  We still care about soccer in America right?

Thierry Henry is set to make his debut with the Red Bulls on July 22. 


A Weekend in Recap

July 12, 2010 Randy Neil

altWow, it’s been a crazy weekend.  Lebronathon is coming to a close now that he has officially announced his new team and pissed everyone but Miamians off.  The World Cup Finals were played yesterday, Spain outdiving the Netherlands, and the MLB All-Star break has officially started.  

I’m not going to talk about Lebron, mostly due to the fact that everyone else already has, and I think my partner summed it up about as well as one could.  I will say this though:  Lebron, get your ass a speech coach man.  Your were mumbling and stumbling all over the place.  Even your big official announcement sentence had pauses and stutters.  That ain’t ballin’ son…. that ain’t ballin’ indeed. 

Aside from the media circus that was, the Phillies decided to host a circus of their own, having 3 extra-inning walk off wins, and a sweep of the Reds.  It’s a nice way to enter the All-Star break (47-40) as baseball takes a pause from the daily grind.

Baseball is like the long-term relationship where you are constantly guilty of taking the significant other for granted, but totally miss them when they’re gone.  Baseball seems like it’s always on, and makes for great background noise, but we all know if you had a chance, you’d bang football much more often.  They seem more exciting, but clearly won’t give you the long term love and support baseball does.  Football is just for sex, which is why I’ve patended a new sexual position called the ‘Jerry Jones.’ 

So, if the MLB was a relationship, then this is the fun vacation getaway.  The point where you and baseball try to spice up your marriage.  The Home-Run Derby starts tonight with some pretty good names, but sadly, no Phillies.  No Chase Utley to talk shit on LA fans.  Still, the show must go on, and if I had to pick a winner, I’d go with Hanley Ramirez.  He has the least amount of HRs going into the derby with 13, so my pick has pure logic behind it.  It’s NOT going to be Matt Holiday with 26 total homers.  NOT.

altSoccer, your foreign lover, is going to end it’s very sweet and sensual affair that only comes but once every four years.  The World Cup has ended, and your ultimate victor is Spain.  They only scored 8 goals the entire elimination round, which usually doesn’t add up to an exciting final, but they definately kept it interesting.  I was very surprised at how well these two teams actually matched up.  At first I thought Spain would just be a dominate force the entire match, and although they did handle possession better, the Netherlands had a pretty good defense for Spain’s attacks, and had a pretty good amount of shots on goal as well. 

Since I’m a FIFA 2010 whore for the PS3, I always go to the Match Facts.  Spain, although having more shots total, only had 4 shots on goal.  How many did the Netherlands have?  4.  During the match I remember my feelings changing from “Oh wow these teams are pretty evenly matched” to “Oh man this is totally going to turn into a game where someone is going to sneak a goal in the last minutes after an incredibly even power struggle, and I will feel unfulfilled.”  Boy was I right.  Spain ended up faking more injuries and eventually all the yellow cards caught up to the Dutch.  It was bland, it was expected, and I’m not feeling satisfied.  It’s almost funny to think that our style of soccer play (US) represents our media and sports expectations, in that it’s very hectic and nail-biting.  Maybe I’m just a piece of shit American and I can’t see the glory in this…

Either way, I’m about to Jerry Jones this bitch, so I gotta roll…. until next time…