Making Defense Fun
Back when I played baseball, I always preferred defense to offense. Sure: maybe this was because I was a pitcher and I never hit a home run (doubles were about all I ever managed, and usually just respectable singles), but then (as now) I’m more interested in defensive baseball highlights — a well-turned double play, a diving stab from the third baseman — than I am in grand slams.
And where I am with watching soccer right now, I’m having a lot more fun watching the defense work than the offense. Maybe it’s because of the collaborative effort it seems to take. I’ll be honest: I’ve read about (and watched some stuff on) historical trends in soccer defense and understand that man-marking is not very popular right now as a defensive scheme, but I’m still having trouble adjusting to watching and understanding zone-marking and being able to tell if teams are more zone- or man-oriented. (Incidentally, how cool is it that catenaccio means “doorbolt” in Italian? What a great name for a defensive system.)
Actually, “trouble” is the wrong term because I’m actually enjoying watching the fluid adjustment defenders seem to make between guarding real estate and guarding a threatening offensive player. My favorite kind of sequence right now is when two or three defenders are spaced out ahead of a midfielder (because this often happens in the middle third of the pitch), gauging his movement and looking for an opening. At this moment, they’re on a string, but then as the attacker advances, one will sweep in to pressure the ball while another reels out to cover the likely target of the pass.
When it works, the pressure forces the pass but then the player on the pass’s receiving end is ready to pressure and can force a turnover. It’s like a little machine — a system of levers or pulleys, or maybe gears — that gets built and re-built many times over the course of a match. Likewise with how the backline maintains shape or breaks down.
I think for anyone at a more or less amateur-level of watching for a given sport that this is the most fun stuff to watch and learn from, more than goals or touchdowns or slam dunks or whatever. As of right now, I often find the build-up to a goal too frenetic to follow in real-time, and so these things that take more than a split second, but are instead processes that repeat themselves within the flow of the game, are the things that are the most rewarding as a spectator.
Read More Run Of Play →