The Las Vegas 3four3 Summit

Roughly fifty coaches from all over Canada and the United States convened for the first ever 3four3 summit this past weekend at the Palms Casino and Resort in Las Vegas.  The summit offered an opportunity for coaches to not only be presented with content first hand, but also meet many of the coaches who subscribe to the same though processes in terms of playing a possession based soccer style.  For those unfamiliar with 3four3 it is the collaborative effort of coach Brian Kleiban and brother Gary Kleiban to present the methodology and exercises of possession based soccer to coaches across the United States and Canada.  The Summit itself was organized by John Pranjic, who served as the point man for events throughout the weekend.  Activities kicked off Friday night at a mixer that set the tone for the weekend that allowed coaches and 3four3 staff to have conversations that for many have been limited to 140 characters up until this point.  The two hours set aside evolved into many late night discussions throughout the Palms resort long after the official mixer was over.

Saturday morning marked the beginning of the presentation with 3four3 developer Gary Kleiban discussing the necessity of having a vision.  Gary further discussed the need for that vision to not be general in nature as general vision is for spectators of the game, not coaches.  Instead coaches need to look deeper into the desired styles of play and ask how these teams do what they do and then build the structures to make it happen.  Don’t say you want to possess like Barca, press like Chile, and counter like Real Madrid.  Instead look at the structures that allow those teams to do what they do and implement the structures in your practices.  After all what happens in a game is no accident, it is the result of the rehearsal of these structures. Gary then gave way to his brother and LA Galaxy Academy coach Brian Kleiban.

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Brian’s teams first popped up on the radar when his U11 Barcelona LA team was seen playing the crap out of the ball in a youtube video that has since gone viral.  Brian talked about the training methodology beginning first with the discussion of the Rondo.  He addressed the need for the coaching points of the Rondo to be very clear as they can vary and change as the level of play evolves.  Ultimately the goal is fast play and fast defending.  The second topic of his presentation was building out of the back and the need for spacing, speed of play, and visual cues for players.  Part of the element of training these visual cues is done through teaching to lose your man, which was his third topic.  From there Brian continued on into the importance of attacking patterns and choreographing pressure. He concluded his morning session by presenting various forms of the Rondo and how they can be used to coach different elements of the game.

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Michael Munoz also of the LA Galaxy then spoke about periodization and how the LA Galaxy academy will be structured for the 2015-16 season.  For those who are unaware the LA Galaxy will now have an in house high school that their players will attend and thus allow them to train in the mornings and afternoons when needed.  A typical day for a Galaxy 16/18 academy player will begin with AM treatment, a morning training session, a 4-5 hour school day on campus at CSUDH, an afternoon session, and then they go home.  The academy players will be practicing 5 days a week.  With the new structures made available through this academy model Michael shared the vision of how they will progress through the year and the various ways the monitor the total well being of the academy players.

Hans Schonhofer the technical director of Junior FC of Barcelona then spoke about the philosophy of their academy and the structures that they have in place.  Junior FC is not a professional club in Spain, so they have a different mission than La Masia.  Some of their players develop and move on to the professional clubs in Barcelona, but the vast majority are a version of pay to play.  The facilities of Junior FC are actually similar to an American health club that the whole family can be members of.  This model at least in part helps pay for the soccer program. Hans spoke about the importance of sharing the process and your vision with the participants, having an organizational structure that supports this, and a competent coaching staff to make it run.

Brian then returned for a final session that was centered around the topic of roster building.  He began by explaining the characteristics we need out of every position in order to play this style.  Brian then spoke briefly on the topics of scouting, recruiting, retention, and release.

The summit concluded with a panel Q & A session in which participants were able to ask questions of all of the presenters.  Some of the highlights of that session were the importance of having stability on the team both with coaches and roster.  This does not mean that you do not introduce new players.  In fact this was universally believed to be very important in order to prevent complacency from occurring on the team.  The coaches also stated the importance of giving players a role model to watch when watching a game.  In other words, don’t watch the ball, watch your player and all of the the things that he does over the course of the game.  A participant asked the coaches about the biggest issues that they see with youth soccer and the panel responded with a variety of answers.  First, the work that coaches do in practice is not evident in the game because coaches as players to do something different in the game than they work on in practice.  Second, American soccer and many coaches lack a team identity.  A coach needs to have a plan and a vision.  Coaches need to stay constant with the teaching models and not change practice to practice because that just confuses the younger kids.

The Summit wrapped on Saturday night with a get together at the Casino Bar Social and Sunday morning with breakfast at the Bistro Buffet. Overall the weekend was extremely successful in creating a network of coaches that now can put a face to names they may have heard of online.  It also helped establish relationships that should allow for the growth of the coaches in the network.

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Pay Attention: Crossfire case is huge for soccer in the US!

As Sepp Blatter found himself showered with 1’s strip club style this week at a FIFA press conference,

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another group is trying to make the cash rain on them in what could be a landmark decision for soccer development in the United States.  For those unfamiliar with the case of Crossfire Premier and the transfer money saga of Deandre Yedlin you can catch up on the meat of the case here.  Essentially FIFA rules mandate that a percentage of transfer money be filtered back to the clubs that has developed a player through the age of 21.  MLS and US Soccer have fought this and held the transfer money for themselves.  Why is US Soccer withholding money that according to FIFA rightfully belongs to the clubs that developed players?

The long term impact of this decision could be massive.  Clubs that operate on a pay to play and win at all cost mentality will now have an end game for focussing on development.  With no promotion/relegation in the United States their is no local incentive to develop an academy that could become a professional club at some point, so the only motives that exist at this point are the altruistic love of the game or the slightly less altruistic love of the big money that so many make in the current system.  Creating a winning club draws in more players, which in turn creates a situation where coaches and technical directors are paid handsomely for winning.

The Crossfire case could change that right, quick, and in a hurry.  A coaches ability to develop players could result in returns for the club.  In turn clubs may indeed start focusing on the development of players rather than the number of trophies and medals that a team possesses, though the two are most definitely connected in the bigger picture.  Think of the impact of $10,000 on a small local club for developing a player versus what that same amount of money does for the MLS franchise.  That money at a local level could provide the club the opportunity to get coaches trained properly, equipment that is needed for players, or scholarships for players that exist in the current underclass that cannot play in the current pay-to-play scheme.  People say Messi would never have made it into the US Soccer system because of his size, but the reality is that Messi would not have made it because he was from the underclass and would not have had access to the system.

The part that I am having a hard time grasping is why US Soccer is not getting behind this.  It seems like this is an outstanding opportunity to get the youth system overhauled in the United States.  I cannot help but think that Jurgen Klinnsman as Technical Director of US Soccer is secretly hoping that Crossfire win this case.  For years he has talked about the lack of access for the underclass in the United States to soccer.  Here is the opportunity right here and US Soccer seems more interested protecting the institution of MLS than the betterment of US Soccer development overall.  Is this a case of US Soccer not wanting to make a sudden turn that they fear could undo the recent years of developing the USSDA or is it more sinister in nature and looking out for corporate interests?

At any rate, no matter what your role in youth soccer in the United States you need to be paying attention to this case.

Summer of Growth

I have debated for a while as to whether to spend the thousands necessary to get my C license through the USSF, but the reality is at this point it is just not worth it.  However, I made the decision to attend a training earlier this month to see Frans Hoek of Manchester United.  For those not familiar with Frans he has previously coached at Ajax, Barcelona, Bayern, the Polish National team, the Dutch national team, and is currently the GK coach and assistant with Man U.  Most of his coaching journey has been at the side of Louis Van Gaal and as such is well versed in Total Futbol methods that our teams aspire to play.  After one weekend of listening to Frans challenge and question even the most experienced of coaches and educate all of us on his methods of tactical periodization I realized I need more.  This past weekend I attended the Nor Cal Premier International Course where I had the honor of seeing Frans again, but also coaches from Benfica, Gordon Young of Sheffield United and Jitka Klimkova of the USWNT.

As is the case with most trainings you learn so much from observing other coaches interactions on the field; seeing how they interact with players, how they correct them, how they adjust to the unpredictability of a real practice, and how all the coaching points as they see them.  Perhaps equally important to growth are the conversations with other coaches throughout the region on topics that range from on the field activities to thoughts on player development.

Getting a C license at this time makes little sense, since I do not get paid to coach.  However, continuing to grow as a coach is extremely important.  So at the end of this month I head to Las Vegas to attend the 3four3 summit where expect to further push boundaries and thought processes.

As for the on the field stuff, the U17’s are busy in pre-season mode getting ready for the high school season with 6:30am workouts on the track and weight room, summer school, and then on the field workouts.  The U11’s are joining the high school boys in the morning workouts and will be prepping for an upcoming tournament in the middle of July to keep us relatively sharp for the fall season.

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…

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