The Long Ball Doesn't Suck!
If you're an experienced soccer player, you've probably heard it all before: The long ball is for amateurs, it’s too simple, it requires no skill, etc, etc.
This all untrue!
These complaints usually come from a team that's recently lost a match because of a well executed long pass.
It's true that teams with quick forwards can often sit back into a defensive posture and wait for the opportunity to send the ball up field and hope for a good bounce. This is not poor play. In fact, it’s an incredibly intelligent strategy in a sport where nothing but the final score matters. It may not always make for exciting soccer, but it can be devastatingly effective.
Remember, in soccer we want to maximize our strength, while minimizing the strengths of our opponents. This is something that sports tacticians call “the optimum principle”. If your team’s strength is defence, it doesn’t make sense to choose an all-out-attack strategy.
What Is It?
Quite simply, the long ball is a pass, either through the air or on the ground intended to move the ball up field a great distance.
Usually played from a defender or goalie to a striker, the striker can then hold up the play and wait for team mates for assistance. Other times, the ball will be played over and behind the defence, creating a foot race between striker and defender for the loose ball and provide an excellent scoring opportunity.
Why Use It?
A long time ago, some statisticians reviewed some data from soccer games and determined that a large proportion of goals were scored when 3 passes or less were used in the build up.
This conclusion has been debated since. However, the fact remains that simple, direct play at goal is often times the best way to score.
When Should It Be Used?
Some common situations that warrant it's use:
- In the dying moments of games when a team is down by a goal and need to score. In that respect, it is to soccer what the “Hail Mary” is to American football
- In games where one team is much stronger than the other, the weaker team may play defensively and use the long ball as a strategy to move up field and score
It's also important to note that the long ball is frequently used in youth or amateur soccer where teams lack the skill to build attack’s through other means. This type of “kick and chase” soccer is what gives it a bad reputation.
As a final note, its important to stress that you should not use this tactic as your sole or primary strategy! Especially in youth soccer, it’s far more important to develop proper strategy and not use it as a crutch. Not properly developing other tactics will ultimately hurt player development in the long run.
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