Been meaning to do this piece for awhile. In fact, killing two birds with one stone here as our SF club team, the Black Sox, got a refresher on the same info heading into the January’s playoffs this evening. (Update: Thankfully after a red card induced MMA-meets-soccer affair in the 1st game, we cruised to our first 2011 championship in the 2nd.)
So often on Tuesday night, Wednesday night, Thursday night across the States and elsewhere, a bunch of players gather on the pitch. The ball’s knocked around, teams score, one team wins and you head home. Just another rec league game.
For our team the Black Sox, we’ve begun jumping up leagues. We’re now playing against former Stanford, Cal, Santa Clara college players.
First, I’d like to call “Illegal, Illegal!” being in my mid-30’s and all, but it presents an opportunity to see if our team– one that I play on and coach–can do so often what we, here at TSG, write about: prepare itself and play as one to to beat others with superior talent.
To be fair, there are many former college players on our team and a few players that played pro or semi-pro…and frankly USMNT too.
We’re not hurting for talent, only I am. Also, I know many of you probably play rec league soccer and I’d like to get more of that discussion going here at TSG, so we start with this feature.
The primary key to rec league soccer, that is 7-by-7 or 8-by-8, is to understand that your team can’t possibly have the best shape or follow a game plan to a tee.
It’s not a job; soccer is not your profession and many times you’re coming after work and still pre-occupied with your day job, thinking about your child at home or thinking about your date afterward or Guinness afterward.
Everything you do has to be simple and halftime adjustments have to focus on one or two main things: (1) “stand your guy up on defense!” or (2) “don’t get stretched.”
Secondarily, pending on your fitness level and the size of the pitch (small by any standards obviously to a regulation 11-by-11 field), it’s necessary to take advantage of counterattack opportunities and defend them as well–which simply means defending centrally at all costs to the corners.
So with these notions, I launch into some defensive and offensive concepts for your rec league game. And welcome your thoughts across the nation on how you handle your rec league team.
Defensively, the Black Sox strategy revolves around a few “no-brainer” notions: (1) the aforementioned defend the middle of the field (2) close down on weaker ball handlers and (3) our primary attackers will not often be disciplined about all coming back.
We play an 8-v-8 game.
We obviously have a keeper and we put three defenders in front of the keep. If you’ve ever seen the amusement park ride, the “pirate ship” or the “looping starship” that’s how these three defenders behave, if as on a swivel with the fulcrum point being the center circle.
We then play a diamond of four in front of that three-man midfield with a holder, a left center midfielder, a right centerfielder and a striker.
It is vital that holder remains disciplined on defense in case of a break and come up and tackle the outlet appropriately, maybe not winning the call but shading the attack to the direction of the most resistance. That central defender also floats and covers the vacant defender position if that wide fullback goes forward.
So the CDM typically, like in hockey, stops the break, unless specifically called to defend a flank. I play the CDM role in our system, primarily because I lack offensive skills at this level. Ha!
On a non-counter play and true defensive set, the goal is to force the ball outside to what typically is the weaker players on the teams.
Most rec league teams put their best players up in the attack. This is a mistake as all to often it’s the outside fulbacks that both face the most on-ball pressure and–should they lose the marble–put the team in the worst possible position of having a counter with only one inside help-defender able to react.
The striker in our set pushes the ball one way, shutting down any on the ground square pass that can relieve pressure, and the rest of the team reacts accordinly as the striker closes down the switch and forces, typically, one of the weaker ball handlers to make a play or lose the ball.
The Black Sox play as aggressively as possible and are comfortable to give up the over-the-top ball.
First, we have a top goalkeeper who is comfortable reacting quickly and coming off his line and secondly, with–again–how small the field is the ability for the opponent to put in a precise and effective over the top ball is minimal. It’s worth our risk to create the turnover. Having a 6’5” centerback ruling the air doesn’t hurt us either.
And that, simply, is our defensive strategy.
On offense, there is much less organization.
Minus the centerback and the central defender, all of our players have a license to go forward, though our wide fullbacks typically recognize if their counterpart has gone forward and stay home (forming a two-back set on offense).
Much like we understand with our defense, we focus on two types of offensive flows….
First the quick counterattack. There is a realization with the quick counter that our team may be dispossessed or mismanage the possession, but that is obviously an acceptable cost given the discipline of the CDM….and obviously the reward.
Our quick counterattack, usually comes in the form of an outlet by our keeper to the half line to the striker who has checked back. Our two most technically and athletically gifted players typically inhabit the striker role, so the ball in their possession is a good thing.
Our 2nd offense, again not nuanced or at all disciplined, merely involves the concept of quick ball movement and off-the-ball movement.
It is very easy–easier than a game of 11 by 11–to pack a defense into the box and defend for an entire game. There is just no room for team to pull a Barcelona and thread passes vertically, mostly in the center of the pitch, against a defense.
Therefore beyond counterattacking we simply check aggressively to the ball or make crashing through-runs. Both types of movement or plays are not unlike offensive sets in basketball.
The checking to the ball it like the high post in basketball, where the receiver of the ball gains possession typically with their back to the basket. They can turn and drive or work off whatever player motion comes next, a backdoor cut (there is no offsides in our league), a “rub” from the player that just distributed the ball or an off-flank movement.
Our 2nd motion is typically used when we’re leading or the other team’s defense has been continually exploited for chances by our offense. And it’s not unlike a Flex basketball offense.
We’ve got two point guards at the top of the attack and the ball is continually–and quickly–swung back and forth until a whole is found in the opponents’ defense.
The CDM in this case usually flashes very high in this set as a defensive precaution and to draw out defenders from the center and create space on the side.
Other than those two offenses, our team is at a loss beyond what each of us individually grew up with.
As for success, our defense has proven to be highly successful, even when a team is managing to sneak in over-the-top balls to their streaking forwards.
What we’ve seen is as players tire and defensive “shading” adjusted, we can typically thwart the effectiveness of those passes over the course of the game to reduce their success. As a note, it’s almost in our favor if a team hits a few of those passes early in the match and fails to develop their possession-oriented offense.
Okay, Rec League 101, drop your wisdom nuggets below.
• Dimensions of the pitch: The dimensions of the pitch make a big difference in how to set up obviously. On a wide field, the Black Sox go 3-3-1, on a narrow pitch obviously 3-1-2-1.
On that wide pitch, the rule is the flank defenders on the backline should never be outside of their midfield counterpart.
• On the CD and the CDM: As long as these players are fit and smart, it’s possible for both of these players to be your weakest ball handlers. We never have our CD carry the ball (last night he got showy and we lost a goal). And the CDM (usually me), takes one or two touches either to move it back outside or up to one of the other mids. Something to consider if you have weaknesses in that department.
So unbeknown to Matt, I sent out these tactics to my co-ed team CGNU. We’re an athletic team who are all rediscovering our former soccer abilities. We have a lot of speed, so we try and beat our opponents down the wing.
3-3-1 – Overall
This is a natural formation that is fairly simple to comprehend and as long as we maintain positions, it’s not hard and we don’t have to rely TOO much on communication. There is a lot of cover if people do get out of position and it’s easy to sub etc…
3-3-1 – Defense
This is actually an attacking formation, but it provides a lot more cover when on defense or against the break away.
When they have the ball in their half, 8 “forces a side” and pressures them. 5 and 7 are primarily attackers but come back and help the far wings and 6 takes away the thru ball. Having the back three a little closer together helps when someone gets beat and it’s easier to cover.
We’re fine if the ball goes way wide in our half as 2 or 4 can contain them there depending on the side. 3 QB’s it all and provides cover as the opposite side (2 or 4 takes the middle).
When our opponent attacks down the middle 3 is primary and directs 2 or 4 to help or to cover a thru runner.
3-3-1 – Offense
8’s job is to hold the ball and pass to 5 or 7 streaking or back to 6 who can bring the ball up, or make runs into the empty lanes either side of him/her.
If 7 or 5 get the ball they can pass forward to 8 or across to 6 or diagonally back to 2 or 4. 3 stays back behind their deepest player. 8 and 6 can also play next to each other when deep in their half but 6 has to be aware of coming back to help defend QUICKLY.
One thing that 5 and 7 have to do is look at lanes B and D as opportunities to get the ball. from here one can pass or shoot. If they have the ball deep in the opponents half in lanes A
and E someone, either 6 or even 2 and 4 need to be in the next lane in to give them an out. We actually do this on occasion and need to do it more!
2-3-3 – Overall
This is a bit more sophisticated and requires people to communicate A LOT more. Also 4, 5 and 6 have to do A LOT of running and have to be ready to switch back and forth from O to D
2-3-2 – Defense
The key to this is 4. When there is a breakaway, 2 or 3 go to the ball and challenge (by forcing the player to the sideline) while 4 needs to cover for them in the middle or if they get beat. Opposite side (2 or 3) covers any other attacker.
5 and 6 also need to come back to help and pick up any runners.
8 and 7 play harassing defense, but in a cup like way where one of them pressures the ball and the other takes away the easiest up field option.
2 -3 -2 Offense.
Key to this is 5 and 6 providing width and speed. They don’t have to send in a big cross but can pull the ball back into lanes B and D. 4 provides this support. 4 should go forward, but HAS HAS HAS to come back immediately. 4 has to run a lot AND BE VERY DISCIPLINED and must stay within lanes B, C and D. If they do go out of position and the ball is lost then we get screwed. This will make your keeper and defenders VERY VERY angry!