Some Ideas

I played in my pickup soccer game yesterday.  We have been getting kicked off all of fields lately, making the organization of the game more difficult.  When I first started going to this group’s games, they were always on Saturday morning at the same field.  We were always coping with other pickup games, baseball teams, flag football teams, etc., so you never knew how much room our game would have (nor did we know how many of our guys would show), but it always worked out somehow.    Then we got kicked off for not having a permit, so we went to another field.  Then we got pushed out of that one, and ever since we’ve been all over the city.

Yesterday we were on a turf field with three small fields.  We started out playing 5 vs. 5 in a little corner of a field with the earlybirds.  I was playing well as forward who started high up in the middle and shuttled to the wings to get the ball.  After giving me the ball on the wing one or two midfielders would push forward and I would feed them and move to space.  We dominated the game, and I had a terrific assist that I flicked to a teammate through my legs.

When more people showed up and one of the other games ended we moved to a larger field.  I started out playing the same position up front, and things were fine, but then the other team scored two goals on us.  At this point I decided to go back and help on defense.  I usually do this at my pickup games.  Once the game has been going for ten minutes, I pick out our team’s tactical weakness and play in a position that shores up the weakness.  We had a strong player in the middle of defense as a sweeper and two weaker players on either side of him, so I ended up playing in front of him as a stopper.

The interesting thing about this position it isn’t glamorous and you don’t get many chances to do exciting things with the ball, but it is absolutely critical to performance of a team.  Even a less technical player can function effectively in this position through positioning, since a big part of it is identifying the strongest players and areas of the opponent’s attack and occupying those players players or areas.  Just being in the right place ensures that passes are not played into these players and areas, and that alone disrupts their rhythm.

In my case the main creative force was a big German guy with good ball control and massive shot.  I essentially made him my focus, and not didn’t even so much deny him the ball but push him to other areas to get the ball. A few times I intercepted passes or too took the ball away from him, but more often he beat me off the dribble or I was passed around.  But because I was there, and because my presence required time and energy to bypass, my teammates were able to organize themselves around me and our opponents didn’t have the easy path to goal they had been using before.  And if I was passed around, usually this meant that a less-skilled player on the opposing team handled the ball for a time, and he either lost the ball or made a bad decision on a pass, etc.  If the big German got the ball, I made sure it wasn’t in a dangerous position, and if he beat me off the dribble it was only because I knew I had help behind me.  A team of excellent players wouldn’t have been as troubled by me or our defense, but I did just enough to disrupt this particular group of players.

This is an example of how a blog post veers all over the place.  I can see now that there are two pieces in one here, and that I can take these two ideas in different directions.  One is the idea of defensive positioning and how resistant it is to definitive statistics.  I can link this to some things I’ve seen in the news lately too.  The other idea is related to economics, and how our pick-up soccer game is valued by all of us because we don’t have to make a commitment, either financial or time, every week, but because of that we can’t lock down a playing field.  There is immense value to our game for all of us, but we aren’t willing to put up the money to secure a more orderly time and place, because that would cut against the tradition and DNA of the game.

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