Why I despise the double-team in soccer!!!

Let's take a quick look at the following video which demonstrates attacking defense at it's best:

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Dan Lyles' award willing article from The World Soccer Magazine's March 2005 Issue, page 31.

Today's players are simply so fast and have such great endurance that many very successful coaches require the double team be executed quite often...like every time, all the time, 24x7!  And they'll employ the 4-5-1 just to insure that the opportunity to double team is ever present.  If you doubt this, take a read of Dan Lyles' brilliant analysis of the difference between the play in the English Premier League and Champions League.

While the short sighted amongst us can only talk about enlarging the goal size, or restricting the goalkeeper, I feel that the entire field needs to be opened up before football will reach it's true entertainment potential.  Discouraging the defensive double team is a necessity if we are truly serious about creating more entertaining action everywhere on the soccer field.  The following videos demonstrate what we are up against.

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The following video reveals that rarest of double teams, in which the ball handler actually escapes still in possession of the ball without getting fouled, but in this case it looks like the escape path included a short trip out of bounds, or at least I've never seen a ball that far over the line without out of bounds being called in my short life.

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With this next example I battle the most common come back to my demeaning of the double-team:   

      "If a man is double teamed, that leaves another player open!"

Take a look at the following video, and let's see if you come to the same realization that I did years ago.

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Arsenal's playing brilliantly, the ball handler escapes the double team, passes the ball back, and just as the Tottenham defense has collapsed to one side, the ball is crossed to a wide open Ashley Cole who'd just made a run up from the back line of the defense...I mean...it doesn't get any better than this as far as soccer action goes under today's reality.  Unfortunately, Ziegler sprints across to hammer Cole, picking up a yellow card, but insuring that Cole didn't even get a cross off, let alone attack the goal directly.  At the next team meeting I'm sure that Ziegler was praised by the coach for his willingness to get the job done, even if it was against one of Team England's most popular players.  Better to tackle high and insure the threat is snuffed out, than to slide in and risk the possibility of becoming part of the evening's highlight footage.  And surrendering the lead against your most bitter of rivals in the process.  Yep, it's a no brainer.

This same video is not just a primer on the double team in soccer, but also demonstrates why I feel that scoring from corner kicks and sidelines free kicks happens so seldom that it's more of a detriment to entertaining soccer than it is a contributor.  Such opportunities result in score board digits so seldom today that side lines set pieces are little more than a chance for players to catch their breath.

But the fact is, trying to clean up play in the mosh pit which IS the penalty area during free and corner kicks simply isn't going to happen.  The fans seem to like this slamdancing aspect of soccer, plus it's just impractical to think that today's soccer officials can adequately police the penalty area during set plays.  So, if cleaning up the mosh pit isn't going to happen, why not come up with ways to just reduce the number of times that it's a factor in a match.

How do we do that?  Let's use this as a carrot to encourage teams to push forward in the most basic way possible...at the basic setup.

The kind of double teaming along the end line is the result of a couple of factors: #1. The incredible work rate of today's players, and #2. The four man back line.  Since you can't do anything about work rate and pace of play, let's address our efforts at reducing the four man back line (4-4-2 or 4-5-1) to three man back line (3-4-3 or 3-5-2).

Consider changing the laws of soccer to encourage the employment of formations with 3 man back lines by allowing corner kicks to be taken only when the defense has two central defenders on the back line, or if the attacker is being double teamed.  If there is but one central defender, and the attacker is not being double teamed, the offense must throw the ball in from the side lines.

I'll admit that this is very much off the top of my head, since soccer players tend to unload on me when I try to learn their feelings about the "the essence of attacking soccer."  Fortunately, my empathy level is high, as such a discussion is like walking up to a grizzly bear and asking which type of seafood he prefers.  He'd think about it, and then he'd rip my head off like in that scene in the movie "Clan of the Cave Bear," and then he'd answer: "salmon...what else is there?"

I can go on and on with this.  How about we finish with an example of triple or even quadruple teaming a striker...


And are you believing that?  The pin head dropped into the splits like a hockey goalkeeper?!?  I know, the FIFA World Cup is far too 'special' an occasion for common sense to be expected.

Look folks, I fully understand that the willingness to constantly double team represents the highest form of hustle in soccer.  But hustle isn't putting warm bodies in the stands at MLS matches.

Again, allow me to compare soccer's double team with what is the very definition of team hustle in basketball...the full court press.  I'll admit, my very own University of Louisville Cardinals won the NCAA Championship back in 1980 while employing the full court press.  But luckily, while I spend time watching soccer at various levels, such as the following women's NCAA division 1 college action:

Ticket Stub from 2006 Women's Division 1 College Soccer Action, North Carolina Tarheels v. SMU Mustangs at Pizza Hut Park on a very hot August 27, 2006 afternoon.


And the following  MLS playoff level action:

          Image Credit:  Ticket stub for the 2nd game of the MLS quarterfinal playoff series between the The Rapids and The Hoops, or The Bull, or The Herd, or El Toro, or whatever it is that we are.  I'm told that we were once called 'The Burn', but that wasn't good enough for the purists.


Ticket of the NBA basketball game between our Dallas Mavericks and the Milwaukee Bucks on Thursday October 19, 2006.

I'm also taking in sports action from outside soccer, such NBA basketball.  And what do you not see at NBA basketball games...that's right, the full court press.  Fans of the full court press have many months of college basketball action, full of hustle and over achieving and Cinderella stories.  But the fact is that I don't have to endure that stuff when I kick back to enjoy an NBA match.  The NBA rules steering committee had the wisdom to realize that entertainment was what the American audience wanted, and full court presses were never going to make the highlight footage of the evening news.  Nor was double-teaming for that matter, which had to be addressed in the significantly smaller surface of the NBA court...for the good of the game...but only at the professional level.

Note:  Check out the price difference of the tickets.

Let's finish this rant session with a shout out to my dawgs up in soccer's executive suites, like Don Garber, and Lamar Hunt, and Roman Abramovich, and Sepp Blatter.  Boys, if all this talk about "Play Beautiful" is genuine, if we really want professional soccer to be more entertaining, serious steps need to be taken to discourage the double-team...some how...some way.  And when those steps are taken, the later minutes of a good percentage of professional soccer matches will take on the complexion of the action in the following sample:

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Mike 'Soccer's Double-Team Demolition Man' Kimbro


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Once one accepts the moniker "Goalkeeper's Dad", agreeing to bear the heavy weight of responsibility which comes with the title, you look at the game of soccer from a different point of view.

Here's a prime example.  When I speak of discouraging the double team in professional soccer, I must admit that I haven't come to terms with whether such restrictions should be applied to play involving the goalkeeper.

Why not, you ask?    and a good question it is!

The following video example from my second favorite match, Arsenal 5 - Tottenham 4, which took place just one week after the incomparable Arsenal 5 - Middlesbrough 3, provides the perfect illustration of why a goalkeeper moving off his line to assume responsibility for an attacker often creates scoring opportunities.  Check it out:

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Now the following example provides brilliant analysis, but ask yourself what's missing from these two videos.  What would you have heard had you been sitting along the front line of the end zone section just behind the goal that afternoon?

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Give up?  What's missing is the sound of the Tottenham goalkeeper Paul Robinson shouting "keeper, keeper, keeper" as he's charging off his line.  You know that the Hulk-like defender Pamarot heard the warning as Pires was accelerating toward the end line, and it kept Pamarot from trying to block the shot, keeping the window of opportunity open for Robert Pires to provide the finish to a beautiful goal which, from beginning to end, is the very definition of both creative play and offensive skill.

So, I'm thinking that double-team debate in football needs to address early on whether the keeper should be excluded from consideration, as almost by definition, the other defender is likely backing away from the striker as the goalkeeper is approaching.

Image Credit: FourFourTwo Magazine, Feb. 2003 Issue, Page 76 ('01-02 & '02-03 Premiership & Champions League Stats)

December 1, 2006 - I awoke this morning convinced that the answer to the double team issue was to simply legislate that any foul by defenders in a double team situation will be a yellow card offense.  It seemed so obvious to me.  And before I could get my tea prepared I'd come to the conclusion that the yellow card should always be awarded to the player who is positioned away from the direction of the ball handler, in other words the card would be awarded to the 2nd player on the scene roughly 95% of the time.  This insures that the players who decides to form the double team do so knowing that he or she is about to pick up a yellow card, even if it's the other player who commits the foul.

Why is this so appealing to me?  Because my least favorite double team is one which occurs prior to the ball crossing over the mid-field line, and the fact is that it often involves a striker coming in 2nd, often via slide tackle.  (And you know how I feel about slide tackles:  a weapon of last resort and all that hogwash.)  The fact is that key offensive players are going to think long and hard before they succumb to the temptation to run over and lend support when a defender has temporarily stopped the progress of a ball handler, and the ball handler is in the process of analyzing the passing alternatives.  In this situation, the 2nd defender knows that it doesn't matter which player grabs a jersey or trips up the ball handler, the yellow card is assessed to the 2nd defender on the scene.

And make no mistake, when it's only minute 18 into a match in which their team has the lead, I don't want Drogba or Henry or Pires or Rooney to feel that it is in their team's best interest to sprint over to the sidelines to insure that the double team is sprung on a defender who has just stripped the ball from them.  I want that to be a stupid decision, and if there's a good chance that their hustle is about to earn them a yellow card, then it would be clear that such action is mis-guided and maybe even self centered.

Of course, the yellow card requirement would like have two very undesirable effects:

#1:  The referee feels that he can't call a clear foul in a double team situation since a yellow card at that moment (too early in the match, too late in the match, with 2 defenders present it's difficult to be sure that the ball handler wasn't diving, the ball handler did throw the word "bitch" in his direction just a few minutes before, etc.)

#2:  The initial defender could feel pressure to go ahead and foul the ball handler before the double team is required.  The more you think about it, the more likely this would likely be the case early after the change in possession.  Even under today's rules set it's often not wise for a defender to simply block the ball handler's path and await for help.  So it's little stretch of imagination for a coach to require his defenders to immediately aggressively go after the ball and take the foul if the double team was a much riskier option.

So, I awaken at 5am, and less than 3 hours later I've come full circle back to thinking that the best way to handle the double team is via an alternative score keeping method.

But don't think that I'm complaining.  Oh no, I love waking up with soccer occupying my every thought.  It's my chance to change the world for the better.