The Killer Pass

“Hombre precavido vale por dos.” they say in the old country. A warned, prepared man is worth two. As the sport of soccer approaches 150 years old, what new attacking variants can there be? How can we possibly get to goal in a way that our opponent doesn’t anticipate? Even Solomon said, “There is no new thing on earth” so for scoring goals it is a question of finding paths that create unpreparedness and disrupt the organization of defenses.

Toby and I were watching the Spitfires, a women’s >35 team, the other day. They have a number of guest and beginner players drop in, a smart idea to find new recruits, and one player stood out. even though she was new to soccer, she played like a veteran. Dribbling, she had the ability to “push and peek” we try so hard to develop in youngsters, and off the ball she always had her head up, scanning the field and seeing the changing opportunities and threats as they developed.

What made her such an amazing “heads up” player, moving like a veteran player with twenty years of experience? She was deaf. Toby asked her about this, with the help of lip-reading and a her hearing friend, and learned that it was a natural tendency for the deaf to scan their surroundings continuously, making up for things they would not hear.

Allie and I had an experience with a Deaf Peddler the other night at Mitama in Berkeley. I had not seen this for decades: a guy walks in to the restaurant and drops one of these cards on every table.

At least he came to our table -- twice.

Then he walks back to each in order and either accepts a donation and thanks you in sign language or collects the card back.

I gave him a dollar because it was a nostalgic experience, and Mitama was so in the weeds that night no one else had come to our table in fifteen minutes.

Allie and I talked about it after and she hit on what we almost all think in this situation, ‘how do I know he’s really deaf?’ She suggested running up behind him and dropping a plate or screaming loudly. I thought if I was a proper gangsta, I’d take out my Glock and fire a round into the ceiling. But after the guy slid out (and if the staff noticed, they didn’t say anything), he stopped outside the window and waited at the bus stop — with his back against the building. We saw that and concluded he was for real.

You are patiently waiting for the point. The soccer point. There is one.

I got up this morning thinking about what to write and the subject of Andrés Escobar popped into my head. Don’t ask me why, I just do what the voices tell me.

As a coach, I watch a lot of poor soccer on the practice fields. (If it was excellent, I’d be out of work.) One of the biggest weaknesses the Hammer has is our impatience going forward. We play like a team that doesn’t get many chances to score, and when one of our forwards gets the ball around the center circle, he usually tries to run it down the other team’s gut. Needless to say, our results trying to beat two central defenders and the goalkeeper this way is rarely successful, because they all see it coming.

To unlock a defense, we have to understand what they are thinking. (This is why I used to like reading Cosmopolitan magazine but that’s a story for another time.) The primary tenets of good man defense are:

  1. stay goal-side (between your man and the goal)
  2. see your player and the ball at all times

Knowing this, a good attack makes defenders break these rules, and wide play helps break rule #2. Think about it: when the ball is near the center circle, it’s easy to see it and the player you’re marking. What’s behind you, in your blind spot? Your goalkeeper. But when the ball is out wide, when you look at the ball, there’s a lot of real estate behind you, and this is where the mischief starts.

When we get wide in attack, our teammates can set up off their defender’s shoulder, making it nearly impossible to watch both. This sets up runs into the space between the defender and goal, breaking rule #1. To counter this, the defenders can sag back towards their goal, but this gives us space in front of them, which is worse.

The ball has come from the left, the sliding defender doesn't know if it's safe to let it pass. Own Goal.

The “Killer Pass” I’m talking about is delivered from a wide position and teases into the space between the fullbacks and the goalkeeper. For the defenders to play this ball, they now turn their backs to the rest of the field, losing sight of all opponents. And their bodies face their goal, making it dangerously easy to direct the ball into the goal, the dread Own Goal.  Rule 2 is destroyed, and Rule 1 becomes anarchy, they have no idea where their mark has gone. You are facing your own goal, you don’t know where the attacker is,  and the ball is moving from where you can see to where you can’t.

Defenders in white can't let the orange player get to the cross. The result? Own goal.

This is the type of play that lead to Escobar’s infamous own goal against the United States:

Some say he was murdered because of this mistake. A beautiful film from ESPN fills in the rest of the story. He did score against his own team. He was murdered shortly after. But to understand everything that was happening, best to watch it:

What no one can argue is that he was a gifted athlete and an extraordinarily courageous, gentle man who died a tragic death.  Our world is diminished with his passing.

A guy I used to work with , Dave Ryan, had a sig file along the lines of “The fatal shot isn’t between the eyes, but in the temple.” meaning it is not the danger you see that undoes you, it is the one you were blind to. Good defenders can take a lesson from the deaf. Good attackers can look for opportunities to play the killer pass that defenders aren’t prepared to handle.

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One Response to The Killer Pass

  1. Toby Rappolt says:


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