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Plan of Attack
Get the Advantage, Get the Goal
By Steve Sampson
General Manager,
Soccer Development


For the next few months I will be presenting six articles on how you can coach your players to attack from the middle third of the field through the attacking third. These sessions are designed for teams 12 years old and up. In fact, this progression of exercises was used with the U.S. National team on many occasions as a way to develop our rhythm and speed of play to exploit the spaces behind the opponent's defense.

The ability to maintain possession of the ball under pressure of the opponent is critical to the success of a team. Maintaining possession allows the offensive team time to exploit gaps in a defense or to isolate individual players on the opposite side of the field to attack 1 v 1 (one against one) or through combination play. This will be the focus of these exercises.

The following are the symbols used to identify player and ball movement in our diagrams:

Running or shooting



Attacking (build up) from the middle to the attacking thirds
1.0 Direct play from the wide position (right side and left side)
Organization of players: diagram 1

1.1 Taking the game to the opponent (a matter of attitude)

In diagram 1 the ball starts with a central midfielder (or a coach). The central midfielder MF 2 passes a ball to MF 1. The pass should be made in front of MF 1 so that he can run forward onto the ball. MF 1's first touch should be toward the defending LB 1. This is very important to establish a positive attitude toward the opponent and the goal. The angle of his/her attack must be directly toward goal for this will create the space needed for the RB 1 to overlap into the space behind LB 1 outlined in a grid. Note: Many young player's first touch will be down the touchline attempting to open up the spaces in the middle of the defense. However, this movement will only serve to take away the wide spaces that the RB 1 is attempting to exploit.

1.2 Overlapping of the outside back

When MF1 touches the ball toward goal this is the signal for the RB1 to immediately sprint to get around MF1. This is the overlapping run. As players get to know each other the RB1 will know immediately when the pass is made by the central midfielder to the wide midfielder that he can begin to make his overlapping run.

1.3 Timing of runs and timing and weight of the pass

The timing of RB1's run is critical in order for him to receive the ball in an onside position. MF1 should release the ball when RB1 reaches a point even with the LB1's position. If MF1 waits too long, the RB1 could be in an offside position when the pass is made. If the ball is played too early is can be easily read by the defense and intercepted.

The weight of the pass is also critical for the ball cannot be played too soft forcing RB1 to come back for the ball. Likewise, it cannot be played too hard for the ball will then be played over the touchline or goal line. The angle of the runs, the timing of the runs, the weight of the pass must all be trained on with great repetition in order to perfect this overlapping run. The exercise progresses from the right side of the field to the left side with LB2 making the overlapping run and receiving the ball from MF 4. Once either LB1 or LB 2 cross the ball then the central MF2 or central MF 3 immediately plays the ball to the opposite side of the field developing rhythm in the attack. Next month we will spend more time talking about changing the point of the attack, rhythm and speed of play.

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