The Soccer Coach Mailing List is an invaluable resource of much coaching knowledge and ideas, particularly for youth coaches looking to pick up new ideas. recently I was compelled to respond to a series of posts on the list suggesting that the general rule for a team in possession is to look for and take the early pass. Quotes on the subject included:
"I prefer the early pass when it's available."
 
"I try to emphasize the importance of maintaining possession. A poor pass results in loss of possession." and
 
"I also emphasize that the game is all about keeping possession. I just feel that usually the best way to do that is to pass early. When you wait until you're pressured, then it's too late. After all, the whole point of defense is to create pressure, while the aim of the attack is to avoid it."
 
My response follows:
 
Well, I don't mean to beat a dead horse, but I simply disagree with this. First, the game is not all about keeping possession. Possession by itself is pointless. Possession has to be keyed to unbalancing the defense and creating penetrating opportunities. I do not know at what level either of the correspondents in this exhange coach, but as you play against higher and more skilled defenses, you will find that possession alone is inadequate to unbalance the defenders and create space to exploit in attack.
 
If possession is to serve the purpose of unbalancing the defense to exploit attacking space, then the early pass as a general rule of attack is not going to work. When is the early pass to be preferred? If the pass will bypass or penetrate two or more defenders then the early pass is on. It is the beginning of creating a numbers up finishing situation. However, barring the opportunity to bypass defenders, the player with the ball should take space, looking to commit at least one defender before playing the ball away. This requires vision of the field, mobility of all supporting attackers and confidence on the ball.
 
Taking space will almost always equate to dribbling in the open field. If the early penetrating pass is not on, then this is the preferred option. Yes, there are always exceptions. If one or two quick, non-penetrating passes will allow you to exploit an unbalanced defense then sure you make those passes. But what happens at the end of those passes? Usually a carry into space with the ball at feet. And again, against higher level defenses, finding an opponent who remains unbalanced after two passes to change the field is uncommon.
 
The principle that an attacker should commit a defender out of the play before playing the ball away is fairly universal. It is true that it means that the attacker comes under pressure, but that is the only way to bypass that defender. If you are worried about your attackers reaction to that situation it tells me that insufficient time has been spent in training on technical ball handling and 1v1 attacking tactics. Why would a team even be progressing to team level possession tactics if it lacks 1v1 attacking tactics?
 
Again, it is a faulty premise to believe that the game is all about possession. Possession with a purpose maybe. The early pass is a good option if it bypasses defenders, but serves little purpose if it only moves the ball without reference to the balance of the defenders. Against a high level team with a disciplined defense, ball movement alone (i.e. no penetrating passes, no 1v1 confrontations) is rarely sufficient to create quality finishing opportunities.
 
 
 
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1997 Scott Placek
 
 
 
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