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Cornell Soccer vs. The Pros

Possession soccer is dead, and counterattacking is king. Gone is the fast flowing, no defense, passing soccer of Barcelona, and celebrated is the lightening fast transition soccer that has taken the professional game by storm. In the late 2000s, the best teams in the world kept the ball as long as they could, eventually finding their way through compact opposition defenses. However, as the physical attributes of players across the globe improve, a new style has emerged.

Counterattacking, or playing on the counter, is now the dominant style in professional football. It used to be seen as a way for weaker teams to compete against top sides, but ever since Real Madrid adopted the counterattacking style to run riot over Bayern Munich in 2013, many top sides have added this technique to their arsenal. Last year’s Premier League champions scored over 50% of their open play goals from counterattacks.

Furthermore, this strategy allows the other team to have possession of the ball, but creates a compact defense that refuses opposition skill players from gaining any space. Once a loss in possession is forced, the team breaks forward with pace and purpose, trying to hurry the opposition defense into making positional errors.

At the Cornell’s women soccer game against Penn, I expected the Big Red to employ this counterattacking style. Similar to how Sweden brought the United States to a penalty shootout, I believed Cornell would sit deep and compact, using the skill and pace of their front line to attack the high line of the Quakers. However, there were a few key mistakes in how the Big Red operated.

The two points that differentiated Cornell’s attack from the pros was their lack of key passes and attacking dribbles. In the game, the Big Red attempted just seven key passes, only one of which was successful. A key pass is a pass that plays to an attacking player behind the defensive line with a chance to run at the goal. With quick strikers like Yearby and DeLoach, one might have expected Cornell to try this tactic more often, especially since they only had 39% of the possession time.

For teams that don’t have the skill to put players behind a high line, man advantages must be created by taking opposing players on directly. An attacking dribble is when a player in the opposition’s half of the field gets past a defender using nothing but skill on the ball.

What wasn’t surprising was Cornell’s success, completing 11-of-17 attacking dribbles. What was a shock was to only see them attempt 17 attacking dribbles. When under pressure, there needs to be a clear strategy for when and how to get the ball, and the Big Red skill players never looked like they were on the same tactical page in the 5-0 loss against Penn.

With an important match against Harvard on Saturday, a team that has been consistently dominant and currently occupies the top spot in the Ivy League, hopefully Cornell can figure out how to best employ the counterattacking strategy.

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