I live just across the street from Goldman Field and I love soccer, so attending Sunday games has been one of my favorite hobbies in my four years at Cal. I roll out of bed a little before noon and wander over to the bleachers, where I soak up the beautiful game and weather.
But, sadly, recently I have derived more pleasure from the sun than the soccer. Since the 2010 season, when your team peaked at No. 6 nationally, it has been one big tumble to the debacle against Stanford last Friday.
That was the worst soccer I have seen Cal play, ever. “Shambolic” would be generous to our defense; our movement, at risk of offending the noble gases, was inert. A good bit of that comes down to communication, and maybe a dose of Senior Day jitters. But I think they are symptomatic of something I have observed since that first game freshman year.
Simply put: your system needs a revamp. In the second half of that Stanford game, your team strung five passes together exactly once. I counted. And the sixth pass went to a Stanford player.
I get it — playing aesthetically pleasing soccer may not be your trademark. But it could be time to give it a whirl. 2010’s direct approach succeeded because you had a large, skilled target man in John Fitzpatrick and the intelligent Davis Paul playing off him. Now, you look like Kenny Dalglish vainly trying to make Route 1 work with the hapless Andy Carroll and a crocked Steven Gerrard.
As it stands now, when the team goes forward, the forwards, wingers and midfielders all make runs that create a Bermuda Triangle in the middle of the pitch. It’s an apt description, because when the ball goes in there we never come out with it — but it doesn’t have to be that way.
Let’s look at what you had, at least this season, to work with: A center back who marshals the back line with the courage of John Terry (and, thankfully, none of the casual racism). Midfielders endowed with fine individual skills. Wingers who could run with RGIII. Why couldn’t these building blocks add up to something better than an 8-7-3 record?
It’s because passing and movement seem to be more luxury than necessity. Long balls from the back line are clearly the preferred method of attack. When a fullback or outside midfielder does find the ball at his feet, options are limited: Every time I have watched, both forwards make lateral runs, the far side midfielder curls around the back line, and the central midfielders sag for a short drop pass to swing around, creating the aforementioned triangle. The three lines play well as individual units, but the lack of checks and overlapping runs leaves our attack devoid of depth and prevents the team from playing as a cohesive whole.
This bleeds into the defense. When the back line plays separately from the midfield, nobody picks up runners. The defense then becomes stretched, and we give up goals like we did on Friday.
Look: The only experience I have coaching is turning my brother’s third grade team into an offensive juggernaut, so take this with a grain of salt. But I’ve been watching and playing soccer since I was a wee boy, and I don’t think I’m far off the mark here. My coach in Africa would put a ball out on the field, tell us to go, and blow the whistle only if we took more than two or three touches. This taught constant movement, quick passes, and great communication on both sides of the ball. I would highly recommend giving it a try. Not only did we play some beautiful soccer, we won every game we played, too.
All the best,
Contact Jordan Bach-Lombardo at [email protected]