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Soccer Runs: Keep the Opposing Team Guessing
Running Without the Ball
If you make a run towards a teammate with the ball but don't receive it - break into space to drag the defender with you. For example, make an ambitious run towards the goal for a through ball just to draw attention to yourself and open up a play for someone else in behind you —this is a decoy run.
Give and Go or Wall Pass
You almost need to sucker the defender towards you if you're trying to pull off a give and go in soccer. You want to act as though the defender is going to be able to intercept the ball, then play the ball and go, accelerating into the open space to receive the return pass. The idea is to draw the defender as close to you as possible and then play the give and go.
The Cross Over Exchange
This is where you dribble the ball towards a teammate and exchange the ball with him or her. You can also fake the exchange and keep the ball if the defender has read the play. Exchange the ball with same foot as your teammate, meaning that if the player dribbling is using his or her right foot, then their teammate will pick the ball up with their right foot, since they are coming in the opposite direction. This enables you to shield the ball from the defender with your body.
This is another good way to open up space for a teammate and confuse the opposition. For example, as outside midfielder you can exchange positions with a center midfielder. If the opposition ends up in close proximity when making a run or when exchanging the ball, this switch may confuse the defense for a brief moment and give you an opening. The outside midfielder makes a run into the middle, receives the ball, makes a pass to the forward who holds the ball and then lays it back to the outside midfielder who sends it down the line where the center midfielder has made a run.
This kind of movement can take place all over the field during a game. As long as you fall back into your position and make sure each position is covered, your team shape remains intact.
Back Door Runs
Make an exaggerated move back to the soccer ball. Then break away to receive the ball in behind the defender, who has now overcommitted to the play since he or she thought you were going to receive the ball in front of you. The timing has to be right on this and the passer of the ball has to know what you're going to do. But if the defender is too tight to you then the passer of the ball should read this and understand you want to break in behind the defense.
Wide Angled Runs on the Outside
When making a run on the outside, as a winger, outside back or midfielder, widen your run so it's easier to run on to the ball and strike a cross, shot or pass. With a wide run, close to the touchline, you have more space to work with and gives the player making the pass or space to play the ball.
As always, change of pace is key, both when dribbling and when making a run. Go at a slow jog, away from where you want to go or disguised by moving into a different position, and then make a quick movement towards the area where you really want the ball. You need to bring the defender away from where you want the ball played. Push up the field so you can break back towards the ball, or do the opposite: bring the defender back to the ball, so you can break in behind him or her, and your teammate can play the ball through and behind the defense.
Third Man Running
While it might seem like two players are passing the ball back and forth innocently keep possession, they're really waiting for the third man to make their run down the line. Too often soccer players get focused on what's right around them, and don't see the third player making the darting run into the open space.
Here are some keys to keep in mind:
- When going at a defender on the dribble - make the defender commit to you and then lay the ball off.
- Angled runs are harder to defend - and you can use your body to better protect the ball when you are receiving a pass.
- Attack quickly when there's an advantage or an opportunity. Don't hesitate. Try to keep the ball moving as quickly as possible. If there's a chance to break - counter attack with a few precise and crisp passes.
While fine-tuning your strategy depends greatly on how the players move through the field, the attitude behind your decision-making can play a critical role, as well…
Don’t Play Selfish Soccer
No matter who’s on your team, selfish play becomes contagious. When someone is dribbling all the time, others will pick that up and do it themselves, or at least not be as active in the play and stop making runs. The great thing about soccer is that this will usually correct itself because the game doesn't allow you to play that way. The team that moves the ball around and shares the ball the most makes things the easiest for themselves and will have the most scoring opportunities. If you play selfish soccer, you will not be successful in the long run.
You not only need to think about what you’re going to do with the ball, but you also need to think about what the person you’re considering passing to can do with it. Before you play the ball, when picking out a player for a long pass or serving the ball in from a long distance, you should have a plan in your mind of what is going to take place next. The player you are making the pass to should have someone to lay the ball off to or time to turn, or you yourself should support the pass if nobody is available. Picture a series of plays that are going to take place when sending a long ball or starting a play. Try to always think of where the ball should go next. That way, you’re making good decisions and setting up your teammates by putting them in advantageous positions.
Let’s say you want to play the ball to your teammate’s left foot and they have someone covering them on their right side. You want to lead your teammate with a pass that puts them in the best possible scenario to make the next successful play or pass. If they are making a run through towards the goal, you want to put the right pace on the ball so they don't have to break their stride. Bend the ball into the path of the player or, if they are better on their left foot, then play it to that foot; or, play it to the space where your teammate can make the play but the defender can’t.
The important thing to keep in mind is playing the ball at the appropriate pace. You can't serve the ball in to a player from thirty yards away without striking the ball crisply and solidly. If you send in a soft lofted ball, it is likely to get intercepted by a defender. Again, a driven ball is easier to control and redirect, on to goal or to another player. It is in this way that you should play soccer: see the next play that should take place before you make a pass. You want to give a directive via the pace of the ball.
As long as you’re constantly evaluating the game and reading the movement of both the players of the ball, you’ll be better able to respond in a way that increases your team’s likelihood of scoring a goal. The only people who can master soccer are those who understand that it demands that you use your mind as much as you use your legs.
Learn more at Strategy and Patterns and Defense