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Soccer Formation Question

Discussion in 'Coaches Corner' started by Finn's Dad, Sep 13, 2015.

  1. Finn's Dad

    Finn's Dad Well-Known Member Lifetime Member SoSH Member

    "Brief" background: I've taken over as varsity head coach for a small urban high school in Minnesota.  We have a small school with many students from other countries, with the most dominant backgrounds being Latino (mostly Mexican-descent) and Liberian.  The kids have grown up playing pick-up soccer their whole lives, but for many of them, this is their first time playing team soccer.  After meeting with the kids and seeing some of their skills, I knew that there was a lot of potential for their talent to be on display if they could adhere to a system and learn the intricacies of team play.  
    I use a "hybrid" 5-3-2 formation - we play with a sweeper, two marking backs, two wingbacks, two central mids, an attacking mid, and two strikers.  When we need a defensive style, the wing backs are limited on their forward runs, but in normal game situations, they push up when we have possession to provide the width to the midfield.  Throughout the pre-season (and at this point, the regular season), we stress possession and the Tiki-Taka style.  My thinking between these two ideas was simple: the school I was coaching at was traditionally a push-over for other schools (very rarely having winning seasons), but the players had excellent individual skill.  With the Tiki-Taka style, I felt that many of the schools that we faced would struggle to contain the pass-and-move strategy... I felt that most of the teams we would play could potentially be in a similar boat to us.  The 5-3-2/3-5-2 provides triangles all around the pitch (when played properly) that allow the players to have plenty of passing options no matter where they are on the field.
    Fast forward to today (9/13), and we are six games into the season.  Here are the results:
    Game 1: 1-5 Loss
    Game 2: 5-1 Win
    Game 3: 9-1 Win
    Game 4: 3-2 Win
    Game 5: 9-1 Win
    Game 6: 11-1 Win
    We currently have the highest scoring player in the state with 13 goals (including two goals and an assist in the 3-2 win, with the winner coming with 2:00 left to play).  In Game 1, our starting sweeper wasn't at the game, and many of the goals came off of mishits/poor clearances/bad decisions.  In Game 2, the goal given up was a PK by a bench player with 1:00 remaining - it should've been a shutout.  Game 5 and 6 saw a similar situation - we had the bench players in and the backup goalies in, and we gave up extremely soft goals.  So with our starting defense, we've given up a total of 3 goals in five games (not including Game 1 since we didn't play with our starting defense).  
    One thing to keep in mind is that out of all of our games, only Game 2 has been against an opponent that currently has a winning record.  The others were played against teams that we would traditionally have close games against (last year, the Game 6 opponent played us closer, and lost 2-1 instead of the thrashing we gave them this year).  Clearly, we have more talent this year, but I don't know how we'll play against the top teams.
    Typically, we play with two marking backs.  They are assigned a forward, and are given instructions to mark that player tightly for the entire contest.  This limits their ability to get the ball, but if they do get the ball, the back then tries to prevent them from turning.  If they do manage to turn, the back then contains them and plays contain defense, trying to send them to the sideline.  During some games, the opposing team would send an additional attacker forward, or they'd have a player dominating the midfield.  We respond by having a CM become a holding midfielder, and they are given the job of shutting down the opposing midfielder.  They limit their forward runs and put more emphasis on stopping the midfielder from receiving the ball.
    Going into this week, we start conference play.  Minnesota is ridiculous, and allows private schools to play public schools.  As a result, we have a few private schools in our conference.  Our game Tuesday is against a team that we've never beaten, and that is currently ranked 47th in the state (we are 70th).  Later this month, we play the #7 team in the state and the #20 team in the state.  
    Now, my questions:
    1. If you were in my position, would you come out with the same tactics that we've played with and roll the dice, or go with a more conservative approach?
    2. My backs aren't tall, but they have decent speed, strength, and agility.  They also don't have a great amount of experience.  When we play some of the upcoming schools, they have some great forwards.  How would you handle them?  Start off with the single-marking, or double-team them right off the bat?  And then to double-team, would you use a wing-back, and then have them limit the amount of forward runs?  Or would you use a CM?  I've been thinking of using a CM and play them in front of the opposing player, so that direct passes to the player are blocked off, and anything over the top would be picked up by the sweeper or marking back. 
    I'd love to hear your thoughts.  I'm cautiously optimistic about our team so far, but what makes me nervous is that I don't know how we compare to these other teams aside from looking at common opponents and records.
  2. DukeSox

    DukeSox Rick Derris SoSH Member

    1.  If it ain't broke, don't fix it.  If you change your strategy now, and you get beat, you won't know if it's because you didn't go with your winning strategy or because the other team would have won regardless.  The team has 5 great games in a row using a strategy they are familiar with - don't change it up on them, it's going to send the message that 'hey we aren't that great, we were just feasting on cupcakes, we need to do something radical to compete with these other teams because they are better than us.'  Let them ride this confidence and see if it holds.  
    2.  I would stick with single backs unless it's some super stud that is going to play D1 somewhere.  
    What poor local newspaper sports staffer is ranking 70+ high school soccer teams!?
  3. Morgan's Magic Snowplow

    Morgan's Magic Snowplow Well-Known Member Gold Supporter SoSH Member

    I agree with DukeSox on both counts.
    Don't tinker with the formation if it has been working.  This is particularly true if your players have limited experience with organized soccer.
    Double marking is crazy in soccer in general.  Just the fact that your guys are marking man-to-man on two forwards (rather than a flat line of backs marking zonally) opens you up in certain ways.  If you start having the wingbacks pinch on those forwards too, you will get killed down the flanks.  At some point you just have to trust your guys to hold their own, or at least limit the damage, in one-on-one matchups.
    Having the central mids 10-15 yards in front of the defenders and trying to shift laterally to get between the ball and opposing forwards isn't really double teaming and is something they should be generally doing anyway.
  4. Finn's Dad

    Finn's Dad Well-Known Member Lifetime Member SoSH Member

    I figured I wouldn't change the formation, but maybe ease off on the attacking mentality a little bit.  We'll give it a shot and see how it goes.  Some of these guys that we will be facing are potential college players.  Maybe not quite the D1 type... I'm not sure since I've never seen them in action.  The man-to-man marking definitely COULD open us up, which is why it is important for the wing backs to drop back.  I chose the man-to-man because man-to-man is much easier to learn than zonal defense.  Our guys sometimes panic when two opponents are near them, and temporarily leave their mark, stab at the ball, and then lose their man.  It's a learning process for them, that's for sure.
    The rankings are done through MaxPreps.com, so it's not a local newspaper.  They balance wins/losses/goals against strength of schedule.  It's nothing formal, but some computer program doing it.  I do agree with our strength of schedule on the site (it's pretty abysmal), but we've made the most of it by tinkering with our formation/tactics and using it as our pre-season.  
    We'll see how it goes tomorrow.  The guys are super pumped, considering they've never beaten this team.  They have huge amounts of confidence, so as long as we play our type of soccer, I am confident that we can put on a good showing.  And, we just got our first inquiries by some college in Iowa.  It's a Community College, yeah, but it's a start.  If we can keep up the momentum, I'm sure we'll get more looks.  
    Regarding the central mids... this is where I'm having trouble getting them to understand positioning.  Sometimes, they get caught so far up field that they wind up having to sprint back a good 80 yards to catch up with the other team.  We keep stressing that they need to hold their position, but everyone wants to get involved in the box.  As we play these teams, this is where it can hurt us.  By having one of the midfielders act as a holding mid, it helps to change his mentality a bit (even though it shouldn't).  Part of it is a language barrier, I'm sure.  I speak pretty fast sometimes, so I think some things get lost.  But when I redefined his role, he understood that and played more as a traditional central midfielder than before.
  5. Schnerres

    Schnerres Member SoSH Member

    I have no idea, how old your players are (I´m from Germany, no plan on the age of this school you mention), but as you mention school, it´s obvious those guys are young and still learning. So I would say, I would stick to your defensive approach with a sweeper behind the defense until you see progress in positioning (this takes time and experience) and then, I would change to a 4-man backline as soon as it´s possible and fits the schedule. So if there´s a winter break or some break when you can offer some advice and do some additional training on this, do it.
    Yes, you will get more and more goals against, but it´s not about results, it´s about the progress of your players in the long run. It really doesn´t matter if you finish 3rd or 6th out of 12 teams, nobody will remember this. But if half of your team is out of football when they turn 20, because they didn´t learn positioning and a decent defense then this is on you. So you better start doing this as soon as possible, really, no matter the results in the short term.
    But i like your approach with the triangles a lot, this also helps, as you mention, your passing game. I would play a 4-2-3-1 when you think you play strong opponents and when you think you´re the favourite, you play a 4-2-1-3 (could also change in-match, depending on the strength of your team).
  6. Finn's Dad

    Finn's Dad Well-Known Member Lifetime Member SoSH Member

    Schnerres - the kids range in age from 13 to 19.  The 13 year olds are used primarily as subs to rest the older, better players.  My best forward is fast, technical, and physically strong.  In midfield, I have a kid with great control and dribbling skills, but not the best distribution.  On defense, we have our oldest kids.  The 19 year old, for example, has played varsity level soccer for the last four years.  It's a good group.  When they're on, they are great to watch - they distribute the ball from the back, work their triangles, quickly get it out to a winger, the winger sends it back to the middle, and with one or two touches, we get a shot on goal from a forward.  When they're off, they resort to kick-and-run soccer: play a long ball forward and try to run onto it.  
    Quick update (school day is about to start):
    We lost our first conference game 8-4.  It was 7-2 at half time, but there were so many defensive lapses on our side it was embarrassing.  We had a 30 MPH headwind during the first half, and the other team took advantage.  Five of the goals were horrendous - a player on their team would take a long shot, the keeper wouldn't hold onto it, gave up a rebound to the middle of the pitch, the defensive didn't follow the shot, and then a streaking forward from the other team would charge the ball and tap it in.  In addition, the team showed ZERO fight on corner kicks.  Players would have uncontested headers onto goal.  I was furious, because this is defending 101, stuff we've coached and worked on, and they weren't playing anywhere near where they needed to play to be successful.  The kids also complained about being pushed by the other team, which I responded by saying, "This is varsity level soccer.  Either get physical or don't compete."  We responded by scoring two quick goals to make it 7-4, then had three more opportunities that on another day, would've been finished (twice we rounded the keeper and didn't get the shot off quick enough before a defender blocked the ball, and once our player was hammered in the box and didn't get the call).  
    Next practice, we worked on being more aggressive defensively and on challenging for ALL 50/50 balls (the kids are so afraid to head the ball and I have no idea why).  This made a difference for the next game, as we played a very physical team.  We were down 3-1 at halftime (gave up a PK and a couple weak goals), but our goalie was new and played much better than our previous varsity goalie.  2nd half, we focused on our game plan, changed our formation to a 4-5-1, and ended up walking away with a 5-3 victory.  However, 3 goals were off direct kicks and one was a PK, so not much creativity during the run of play.
    The next game, we played another strong team, and although we lost 2-0, we played fantastic defense and had one of our better team performances of the year.  The missing part was creativity in the midfield.  Our forward was isolated for much of the game and appeared lost with his role.  We changed mid-game to a 4-4-2 to help, but that didn't result in much better play - they panicked and started playing long ball.  At the end, we changed to a 4-3-3 to try to spark more opportunities (the kids kept playing long ball, despite my pleading, so I felt this would at least give us a few more chances).  Very questionable refereeing during the game hurt both teams - players were going in cleats up with no calls, lots of pushing with no calls, a clear PK for us (twice) wasn't called... one was a handball, and one was a player getting taken down from behind on a breakaway (ball wasn't touched).  
    A key change that we made since the 8-4 defeat was the defense plays zone.  This has helped.  We've also lost players to academic eligibility, so I have several JV players trying to blend in with the varsity squad.  
    We play a team that's a traditional powerhouse today, but they're having a very down year (5-5 record, very young players).  I talked to the team about it, and we decided that we are going to start with the 5-3-2 formation today because they have played their best soccer in that formation.  However, if the team starts to expose the space behind the wing backs because they aren't tracking back, we're switching to a 4-4-2.  The key for us really seems to be the first goal.  If we score it, the team plays so much better after, especially if they score it through solid build-up play.  
    Sorry for the ranting... just processing my thoughts as I type.  We have 7 regular season games left in the year.  If I can get my varsity players back, I feel good about our chances moving forward with a 4-4-2 or 4-5-1 (in whatever variety of the formation is necessary).  Right now, we're playing 8 games in two weeks, so we have had next to no practice opportunities to work on a new system.  It's more a "try as we play" thing.
  7. TrotWaddles

    TrotWaddles Member SoSH Member

    Keep the attacking mindset.

    If the mids are getting too far forward, use the sweeper to make verbal corrections when he thinks he needs support.

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