When I was growing up in Brazil and learning how to play the game of soccer, the attraction to the game was always the flair, the style, and the scoring.
There was always an inside joke that your 11th best field player ended up being in the goal because defense and stopping the other team from scoring was not an issue if you were scoring at will.
We worked on our technical skill, our patented moves, and our celebrations. Defense was an afterthought.
In high school, the formation that we played (which I thought was ridiculous but in studying the history of the game realized that it was what many if not all teams were playing at the time) was a 2-3-5 with two defenders, three midfielders, and five strikers.
I started my first game for Westminster High School as a “left inside striker,” whatever that meant.
When I made my second stop in college, (don’t really remember a lot about the first year; kind of washed from my memories) I landed on a squad who had a terribly defensive minded coach who himself was a hall of fame defender at his alma mater. I love that man to this day, but when I first got to campus and thought I was “all that,” he quickly brought me down to Earth.
Once I questioned his focus on defense and some of the tactics that he was teaching us to prevent the other team from scoring and it didn’t sit too well. Unlike the old fat guy coaching at WHS now, our college coach was a recently graduated player in his mid-20s who was still game fit and welcomed the chance to give me what they now call “hands-on learning.”
In front of the entire squad, he challenged me to a one-on-one matchup to which, now feeling even more emboldened; I welcomed the chance to show him my way. I was new on the team, was red-shirted so wasn’t even going to play in games that year, but this was my chance to put my own stamp on the team and let them know about the new kid in town.
Anybody that has ever played with me or against me knows that my “go-to” move is some sort “nutmeg” (a move where the ball passes through the opponent’s legs to be retrieved on the other side) so of course I had to demonstrate it to my new coach. Which I did.
Quickly after pushing the ball between Coach’s legs, I moved to get the ball on the other side of him and found myself face planted on the ground. I got up, dusted myself off, and challenged him again, to which he grinned and said, “bring it on.”
Another move from my limited repertoire and again I was past him heading to the ball when I tasted dirt. I’m a slow learner so this went on a couple more times before I realized the lesson he was teaching me and everyone else on the team — you cannot let the other team score. Period.
He gave up a little street cred by allowing me to get by him, but then won it back from me and every other player on that team tenfold when we finally realized that I didn’t get by him, he let me by him to teach me the lesson.
I am all about offense and scoring, but that experience and the experience of coaching against some of the best club teams in the region has made me much more of a defensive-minded coach than I would have otherwise been.
Nobody likes a tie, but the only thing worse is losing.
As a collegiate team, we were hard to break down because of the defensive emphasis, so if we lost it would be by close enough margins to keep us “in the game” for most of the 90 minutes. Occasionally, our defensive posture would “steal” us a game or two from teams that were better than us.
If anyone watched the boring Thursday night football game that ended 10-3 with a Packers victory over the Bears, you may have seen the excitement in Aaron Rodgers’ face in the post-game interview (most people probably went to bed at halftime of that snoozefest). What caught my attention was no matter what the reporter asked Rodgers, he always came back to his comment that “we have a defense.”
Here is one of the top quarterbacks in the game, arguably one of the best ever in the game, not talking about their inability to score points, but so excited that his team finally has a solid defense that they can now compete for the title again.
Although offense is much more “sexy” and people pay to see points scored, without a solid defense in any sport, it’ll be a long season. U. S. women’s national team player Christie Rampone once said, “If we score, we might win. If they never score we can’t lose.”