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Monday, August 29
The Defense's Most Valuable Weapon



By Ryan Wood
Active.com

A good soccer team has loud practices.

Sounds odd, but it's true. If a soccer team runs around during scrimmages and the players keep quiet, there's no way they're on the same page. If they aren't on the same page, they will get smoked by a team that is working together come game day.

It's especially true for the defense, which has to deal with opposing attackers constantly shuffling and adjusting strategies on the fly while trying to get behind the defense. The defense's best weapon to combat this is loud voices to keep each other alert to what's going on.

"Communication is the biggest thing," said goalkeeper Karina LeBlanc, who plays for the Canadian national team. "If you can help your defender or midfielder or whoever's next to you by saying 'Hey, you step and you go 100 percent because I have your back,' that lets them go hard rather than go tentatively.

"I think that's the most important thing for having a successful defense."

Goalkeepers like LeBlanc are the most crucial piece of the communication puzzle. Keepers have the best perspective of the field and never have anyone behind them. They should be louder than anyone.

"You see the entire field. You are the eyes of the team," LeBlanc said. "So you have to communicate what you see, because you know everyone can't see everything that's going on. So it starts with the goalkeeper to the defenders to the midfielders to the forwards. That's why defense is an entire team project."

Defenders should constantly be chirping to each other, too. Things like letting teammates know if a forward is trying to slip by them, letting them know if they have teammates nearby for support--any clue that can help a preoccupied defender be more aware of the situation around them.

"We have to communicate and let each other know where players are running," said defender Stephanie Cox, who plays for the U.S. national team. "It's so huge. You really have to get on the same page, not just through time but through communication on the field."

So next time you lace up for soccer practice? Start talking. And don't shut up.



Monday, August 29
Changes in US Men's National Team

Aug. 29, 2011

Chris Pontius and Jonathan Spector Added to U.S. Men's National Team Roster for September Friendly

U.S. Men’s National Team head coach Jurgen Klinsmann has added Chris Pontius and Jonathan Spector to the roster for the match against Costa Rica on Sept. 2 at The Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif. FC Dallas defender Zach Loyd and Chivas USA defender Heath Pearce have withdrawn due to injury.



Monday, August 29
Improving Your Soccer Skills On Your Own

Improving Your Soccer Skills On Your Own

By Claudio Reyna

A player can always improve his fitness by working out hard. He can comprehend certain tactics by studying the game. But how far he or she goes will be determined mainly by how well he has mastered ball skills. Those are acquired by playing, day after day, year after year.

A player who really wants to excel will spend as much time as possible playing small-sided games when he has playmates, and juggling and kicking against the wall when he’s on his own.

I spent a lot of time hitting the ball against the side of the house when I was a growing up. If my mother complained about the noise, I’d hop down the retaining wall at the end of our property to the office-building parking lot.

I’d use that wall -- hitting the ball with both feet, seeing how long I could return the wall’s passes without losing control. I found out later that so many pros spent lots of their childhood doing that.

Dennis Bergkamp, the great Dutch striker who scored and set up hundreds of goals for Ajax Amsterdam, Arsenal, and the Dutch national team, said that when he was a youth player at Ajax, they had little three-foot-high walls. He would knock the ball against the walls for hours. Every time he hit the ball, he’d know whether it was a good touch or a bad touch. He’d do it over and over, trying to establish a rhythm.

Whenever I saw Bergkamp slotting a perfectly placed ball past a goalkeeper or making a precise pass, I thought of him practicing against the wall.

Kicking against the wall is an excellent way to work on improving your weaker foot. You can back up and practice shots on goal, or move close to the wall and work on passing, because where there’s a wall, there’s a teammate.

You can practice trapping and work on your first touch by controlling the ball before you kick it, or hit it back first time.

Passing the ball against a wall from close distance takes timing and coordination. Hit the ball faster, and you’ve got to react faster and get a rhythm going. It almost feels like you’re dancing.

Practicing the correct striking of the ball over and over helps it become second nature. It has to be, because in a game a player doesn’t have time to think about his form or approach. Under pressure, everything is more difficult.

Mastering technique while playing on your own is the first step to being able to do it right in a game.

(Excerpt from "More Than Goals: The Journey from Backyard Games to World Cup Competition" by Claudio Reyna, courtesy of Human Kinetics.)