Video of 4-2 Loss to CCV Stars in Got Soccer Cup

Here is video of our 4-2 loss against CCV Stars at Got Soccer Cup.  The game was a competitive match and I felt that we played a good opening 15 or so and closing 15.  In between the Stars definitely had the better of play.  According to Got Soccer Rankings they came into this game as #4 in the country and we came in at #439.  This game I think showed our continued development at playing at a higher level.  Our boys have not been used to pushing for the full 60 and had a tendency to take the foot off the gas at times.  After this game we talked a bit about what our quality is like when playing at full effort levels versus not at full effort.  The result was what happened the next day against Trebol FC.  We know that there is quite a bit to work on, but learning the speed at which we must operate at the higher levels of competitive soccer was the biggest educational piece we were missing.  Hopefully the boys go back into training and carryover the lessons of the tournament there and in our last league games of the spring.

Video of 3-2 loss to Southwest Gunners SF At Got Soccer Cup

Here is the video of our 3-2 loss to Southwest Gunners SF at Got Soccer Cup.  I felt like we outplayed them for vast majorities of the match, but were unable to connect well in the attacking third.  Combine this with some of the errors that we made in the back and you get this scoreline.  Credit to the Gunners for capitalizing on these mistakes, it takes a good team to punish a team when they make mistakes.  The match was our first at Got Soccer Cup and our first at this level.  It was a good experience for our boys as that were able to use it to learn and build on in the later matches.  It is safe to say that we would not have been playing at the level we were in day 2 with out the learning curve of day 1.

Video of ACLB vs Trebol FC in Got Soccer Cup

Here is the video of our last game of Got Soccer Cup, the 5-0 win over Trebol FC of Colorado.  This was our best effort of the tournament and some of the best we have played overall.  The first goal hits 40 seconds in after a nice win of possession on a long ball sent in by Trebol and then we quickly transition into our attack.

Day 2 Got Soccer Cup

Game three (our last game) of the tournament went very well.  The boys demonstrated a good amount of growth from day 1 and they were pretty impressive in a 5-0 win over Trebol FC of Colorado.  The win would have put us through to the semifinals on points if the tournament was scored using traditional 10 point scoring, but the 3 point only system left us short of the semis by a point.  Regardless the boys I think left an overall positive impression on the tournament.

As for the game itself, overall we were able to limit mistakes down and the few that we made we did not get punished for.  On the attacking side of things the boys did a good job of finding the balance between attacking through balls and combining into the box for shots on goal.  A few of the goals really did represent some high quality play.  In the bigger picture our boys learned to play at a higher level for bigger stretches of the game.

I will post videos up later this week of the games and you should be able to see some measurable growth.  I think that if I were another team I would not want to have played us day 2 or 3 the way things were coming together.

Day 1 Got Soccer Cup

Day one of gotsoccer cup is in the books and while the mistakes in the day definitely cost us, overall the quality of play was pretty good.  We began the day playing NYSA Gunners.  We dominated possession throughout the game, but made a few mistakes out of the back that resulted in 3 goals.  The first goal for the Gunners came as a result of slow play with the ball out of an outside back.  As he took his time, the defender closed him down and took the ball off his feet.  The attached turned at goal and banged it in.  The second goal came through the middle of the field as we failed to pressure at the top of the box, this was a good goal, but preventable with better pressure.  The final goal was a counter in the second half in which the right half of our defensive line got disjointed from our left side.  The result was a nice through ball that resulted in a 1 v 1 with the keeper.  If the keep had been playing off his line he could have cleaned it up, but he held to long and was late.  Our two goals came off of a free kick in the first half to cut the lead to 1 and a nice volley in the box that took the lead back to 1 again.  The final score was 3-2, but we probably held the ball in their defensive half for 3/4 of the 2nd half.  Even the referees commented on how much we dominated play.  But that is the game right.  Take advantages of your chances and eliminate mistakes.

Game two was against CCV Stars of Phoenix, #4 in the country.  We played very positive the first 15 minutes and jumped up 1-0 on a nice through ball to our forward.  They responded when a scramble in our box left a ball sitting in front of goal for a tap in.  A few minutes later we actually did a very good job of playing out and looked to play completely out of pressure and switch the field, but our d mid hit the ball too softly on the switch, and I mean way soft which was pounced on for a goal.  They got a third goal on another soft pass out of the back when out defender played a soft clearance in front of goal.  Our goalie almost made the sav, but could not hold onto the ball and it was tapped in.  We pulled one back on a nice ball after pressuring a tour over deep in their half.  They responded a few minutes later when they finished at the near post to make it 4-2.  We continued to have chances, but could not find the back of the net over the final 10 minutes in a very solid final 15-20 minutes for us.

Overall we would like to have some of our mistakes back, but the quality of play was very good.  We are hoping that our boys are learning how the lapses in play at times are taken advantage of by other teams.  We are also hopeful that the boys are seeing how well we are capable of playing when we have good effort and focus across the field.  One more game to go tomorrow against trebol Fc of Colorado.  We will see if we can get three points in our final game in Las Vegas

Off to Las Vegas for Got Soccer Cup!

Well many in our group are departing for Las Vegas for this weekends Got Soccer Cup today, which is certainly the highest profile tournament that we will have entered up to this point.  The four teams in our group are us, ACLB (Los Banos) Got Soccer nationally ranked #421, Trebol (Denver) # 224, NYSL (Las Vegas) #165, and CCV (Phoenix) #5.  While Got Soccer rankings are not the most indicative of team ability, they do give a relative indication as to the difficulty of this tournament compared to what we have played in up to this point.

We spent the week working on our touches, whole field pattern play, and ball distribution through the midfield.  As you could see in our last video (if you watched) we are struggling with playing the ball away from pressure and more specifically turning the ball away from the pressure instead of continually playing short into tight spaces that eventually get cut off.  We worked a couple of midfield distribution drills courtesy of Gary Curneen’s latest book, Position Specific Training.  If we see any of these elements starting to show through against tough competition I will be impressed since we know that things must be trained to the point of unconscious competence.  Realistically in a best case scenario we are in the second stage of conscious incompetence.  Translation is that most of our players recognize the relevance of the training, but the execution is probably not at a game level yet.  We also had a chance to work our forwards on movement reads such as when to check, when to interchange, etc.  The pieces are coming together a bit in practice, but the urgency in the attacking 3rd is still not at a game tempo yet in practice.  We have a few guest players joining us for the tournament, so hopefully their quality in the final 3rd will help us in these areas.

We will be attempting to shoot some video of our games in Las Vegas, primarily as a coaching tool.  Obviously U11 players look at the film as a how cool it is that they are on the internet.  A few of them get it and see the mistakes that they are making and kind of cringe while watching at times and get excited at other times when positive movements happen.

Regardless we have talked about reasons to look forward to this level of competition and how boring low level games can be.  Again some love the idea of a high scoring blowout.  I then reminded them how fun it is for 20 minutes and then how boring it is to pass the game away with possession for the last half of a match.  We talked about the opportunity that these games present to bring out the best in each player and the opportunity to show how strong the team can be.  At any rate it will be interesting to see how are little team from Los Banos fares.  We will keep you posted!

ACLB vs Ajax

Here is the video from our most recent game against Ajax United.  We are wearing blue.  Our first half was extremely sloppy and I was not very happy with our quality of play.  We spent the half with our players all trying to be the man and take people one on one, instead of playing off their teammates.  We were also trying to play too direct.  We talk about playing simple passes with complex movement.  I believe things go wrong when the reverse happens and we have simple movement and complex passing.

With that said we wasted some good opportunities in the first half.  At halftime we had a “discussion” about playing as a team and playing the ball away from the opponent while trying to get to goal.  We did a better job in the second half of looking for teammates and had a better run of play, but still wasted a few golden opportunities.  At 43 minutes we moved one of our stronger and faster players from Center Back up into the attack and he scored 30 seconds later.

Our next set of games are going to be at Got Soccer Cup in Las Vegas.  We are going to have to do a better job of controlling the ball and moving it to find the 2 v 1’s on the field if we are going to have any success there.  We will be adding a few guest players in to the team for this tournament because we are going to need a bit more firepower to compete at that level.  Hopefully we will be able to capitalize on our opportunities, because one thing is very clear:  the higher the level of play the more they punish you for mistakes.  Your team can play amazing for large stretches of games and quality opponents will take advantage of the moments you lapse and punish you for them with deflating goals.

This will be our first time facing out of state competition with teams from Phoenix, Colorado, and Nevada in our group.  Should be a good experience pushing our limits.  We will see how it goes…

Differentiated groupings at practice

One of the things that newer coaches think about when instituting new curriculum is whether their players are ready or not.  It is important to differentiate your groupings.  The top players should be training in a grouping with other top players and lower skilled players should be prepping with lower skilled players.  These groupings are not permanent and should be fluid even within a practice as kids have good days and bad days.  Ultimately when you move in to whole group the groups will be blended back together.  It is important to remember how frustrating it can be to be a high skill player stuck in a group with low skill players.  Yes I know they are teammates, but it is vital that the best players also continue to get better.  This is not No Child Left Behind, this is all players move forward at their level.

Here is a look at 4 groupings from our practice on 4/23.  One of the videos is a 4 v 0 because the group really was struggling that day in 3 v 1.  So we pulled them back into a 4 v 0 to focus on technique and body positioning.  At this point in our development the players divide themselves into at level groupings, the coaches do not have to tell players which group to go to.  We only had to make one change this day.

Also as a practice progression to get to this point this day we start with 5 v 2 warm-up, then go through our stretching and skill set development period, s-drill, then into 4 v 0   / 3 v 1

Crossing that Bridge

As I mentioned in an earlier post we began play three years ago as a U8 bronze team.  Now here we are three years later playing at the Premier level of Nor Cal.  But a larger question exists now that we have reached this point: “Is this where we want to be?”  What we have learned in our stay at the Premier level is that we are an average team for this age grouping because we are not a collection of all-stars or the top team of several at a larger club, instead we are an organically grown team that consistently can swing with the big boys.

The question then is this where we want to be?  As a coach I certainly want to meet the highest challenge and play the best, but at what expense is this accomplished.  Playing at the Gold level we thoroughly outclassed our opponents and did not belong, but it took a lesser commitment from players and families.  Moving up to Premier has increased the demands on families to have a greater commitment to things that will make their children better soccer players.  However, what is the cost of doing this and is this what they all want?  When the questions are asked the answers are always yes, but when it comes down to actually making sacrifices it feels sometimes like feet are being dragged.  It is as though we recognize that playing at a lower level is not the challenge that we want in competition, but playing at the highest level places demands that we are not comfortable with either.

One need look no further than our last tournament as evidence.  We traveled down to Los Angeles and our kids were truly on a vacation complete with trips to the beach and all.  The result was a lethargic effort in which we only showed any real seriousness in our last game on Sunday and it ultimately left a bad taste in our mouths.  From there we picked up in league with two half hearted efforts that resulted in back to back 2-1 losses.  We finally broke through in the third game with a better effort and a 3-2 win.  But is this what everyone really wants?  Do the the kids want to be pushed to this level?

The answer like most things lies somewhere in the middle.  Many of the players do in fact want to have to play hard and at the highest level because of the challenge.  There are of course others that enjoy being a part of the team, but are not as committed to the level of play they must achieve to be successful at this level.  So the challenge as a coach is what do you do?  We are not a club in the sense that we have an A and a B team (or more for that matter) where these problems would more easily be resolved.  We are also 45 minutes to an hour removed from any other club where players could go to meet their level of need and even many of them only have 1 team.

So here our kids are getting prepared to head to Las Vegas for another high level tournament and we as coaches and managers are now attempting to treat this more as a business trip, than vacation.  Team meals, proper health preparation for games, etc.  But there will undoubtably be resistance to this when we go to Las Vegas.  And this is where the real frustration starts to kick in.  Our team is not athletically gifted relative to these other teams, we are probably below average across the board in that aspect. We are successful when we have high work rates and utilize our technical ability.  So it is critical that our players are in the best possible mental and physical shape to be ready for high level competition, a level where a few mistakes can be your undoing.

So going back to the original point, it seems we have reached a point where that first question is truly going to determine the future of this team.  Is this where we want to be?  If the answer is a resounding yes then there is no doubt that the future of this team is secure.  Anything less than that however leaves the future in doubt.

MLS you had me, then you lost me!

A lot is made of the so called “Eurosnob”, the American soccer fan who prefers watching European soccer to Major League Soccer.  In theory I should have been the demographic that MLS was after:  A newbie to the sport, no real knowledge of international soccer, and a willingness to spend money to see the game in person.

I was the typical all American sports kid, not an All-American, just a kid who loved American sports.  Specifically football, basketball, and baseball.  Sure as a kid in my San Fernando Valley neighborhood we ventured into our occasional game of playground soccer in an enclosed outdoor area, but that was more to appease out Argentinian friends Ariel and Eziquel who went along with us most of the time when we engaged in our “American” sports.  There were no dreams of becoming the next Pele, in fact I don’t think I even knew who Pele was.  This was the early 1980’s and soccer was relatively invisible on the sports landscape.  Instead we played basketball first, football second, and baseball third.  I was an undersized late bloomer with dreams of making it into the NBA or NFL.  When those dreams were obviously not realized, I became a coach for these sports.  And so this continued until around 2002.

That’s right 2002!  World Cup 1994 was barely a blip on my radar.  The founding of MLS was cool, but I was not all that interested.  Then in 2002 I found myself getting up at 4am to watch the USMNT compete in the World Cup.  It was captivating because I had a rooting interest.  I didn’t know jack about soccer, but like Olympic fans I wanted to see the United States win… and they did (well almost).  They made their most successful run in the modern era of soccer all the way to the Quarterfinals.  But like Olympic fans and their favorite swimmer or gymnast, soccer slowly faded as my interest dwindled with nothing of note in front of me to see.  Although I did find myself watching the occasional US match on TV.

Then I had kids and what better youth sport for kids to play than soccer.  So I signed my kids up for the local park and recreation league.  As a coach of other sports I naturally volunteered to coach my 3 and 4 your old boys in park and recreation soccer. It was more of a directional experience than a coaching experience, as in “go that way”.  But as a person that was accustomed to structure in sports I was dissatisfied with the lack of organization of the unaffiliated park and rec league so I found a CYSA league 40 minutes away.  At sign-ups they told me that my younger son was too young to play by 4 days, but they would put him in if I coached.  They even offered to give me coaching courses for free and I received my F and E license.  While taking the course I ran into some local coaches who ran a travel team and long story short I was suddenly immersed in the local soccer scene coaching a U8 boys travel team.

So here I was coaching travel soccer and my first inclination was to look for the nearest professional league to take my kids to go see games.  We went to the occasional SJ Earthquakes game in that first year, but quickly loved the gameday experience and bought season tickets for our family over the next few seasons.  As we were attending these games, I was continuing my soccer education.  Early on the MLS standard seemed pretty awesome, but as my soccer knowledge increased and my knowledge of the game increased I found myself questioning what I was seeing on the field.

In soccer education I was now attending trainings presented by Fiorentina, Ajax, Barcelona, etc.  MLS was no where to be seen.  In retrospect I wonder why were they not present in these training sessions?  Why were they not actively educating local coaches that could potentially feed their club?  However, at the time that was not something that I was thinking about.  I was thirsty for soccer knowledge and I was getting it from these foreign places.  The natural next step was to watch these teams in action.  Sure their training seemed great and all, but what does the finished product look like?  It did not take long to figure out the difference.

Instead of watching the domestic league I found myself waking up early to watch EPL games, because they were most readily available.  Then with exposure to possession soccer education, I found myself gravitating towards Barcelona.  The technical ability that Barcelona possessed was the technical ability I wanted my players to strive for, not the technical ability of the players in MLS.  I needed to, my players needed to watch more La Liga, Serie A, Bundesliga, etc.  More importantly I didn’t have to ask my players, they were watching it and wanted to talk about it.  But don’t feel bad MLS, they don’t want to talk about FMF much at all either.

They want to talk about Barcelona, Bayern, Real Madrid, Chelsea, Manchester United, Juventus, Messi, Ronaldo, Hazard, Pogba, Oscar, Neymar, Suarez, and Bale.  I want to talk about them also.  So does liking watch these players and teams make us “Eurosnobs”or fans of high quality soccer?  Why did we turn to these leagues for inspiration?

The answer is actually quite simple.  MLS lacks the quality, tactically and technically to captivate a large soccer audience.  You need proof look at soccer viewership statistics in the United States.  The largest club soccer audiences, both on TV and in person are when these European teams are involved.  EVEN WHEN THE GAMES DON’T MATTER.  Think about that for a second, Americans would rather watch exhibitions of these teams than meaningful games for MLS.  Americans don’t even watch preseason baseball, football, or basketball.  Preseason games in these sports get a fraction of the attendance that their regular seasons get.  Yet in soccer Americans will fill these very same stadiums to capacity for meaningless games.

So here I am anticipating the next round of preseason tours coming this summer so I can take in a public training or game if they make it to the West Coast and not attending any local MLS games.  Not because of any blatant dislike for MLS, but rather because I prefer to spend my money elsewhere.  MLS you had me and let me go.  I was who you were after 25-40 year old, married, professional with income and two soccer playing boys.  Kids who could have grown up Earthquakes fans or Galaxy fans or whatever MLS team they wanted.  Instead they have a passing interest in MLS and sit down to watch La Liga games.  Instead of being MLS teams on FIFA, they want to be Barca, Real, Bayern, or Chelsea.  Instead of wanting MLS jerseys they want the same teams jerseys they play with on FIFA and watch on TV.  So MLS you really did have me and I thank you for helping me to understand the game better, even if it was in an opposite way than you intended.  But I have moved on now!  I hope that one day you can get me back because I would like to see quality soccer right here in the United States, unfortunately it just is not happening right now!

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