Fall 2013 Game 1 Hawks vs Magic PNA

Wow! The boys realized two things from this game. It takes a team to compete against top level competition and it takes a certain attitude to know how to claim victory. In the first game of the season against a Magic PNA team that outscored opponents 49-1 in league play since our last meeting in April, the boys needed a solid game from everyone.

Ben, Graham, Matthew, Noah, Alex, Tyler and Tommy started the game for the Hawks. There were several looking to come into their own on this day. After the Danny Cunniff tournament, this was the opportunity to get themselves back to playing Hawks soccer. Many of the boys in PNA's lineup were familiar - Andres, Casper, Michael and Gabriel just to name a few. All are excellent players who have done a number to us in the past. Andres and Michael both have a dangerous shot on goal that can range from 20-30 yards out. Unfortunately, Brooklyn was unavailable. Rumor has it that he was on his way to Columbus, Ohio to join Coach Klinsmann and the USMNT in their World Cup qualifier against Mexico on Tuesday or that he was on his way to try-out for West Ham United of the English Premier League. True or not, I am running with both stories for now (and the originator of these rumors).

I digress.

The game started in typical fashion. Both sides were looking to establish themselves early to set the tempo of the game. The game was back and forth early. The defense started solid. Matthew was especially nimble in the middle. The wings were creating some push up the sidelines. After 13 minutes of play, it happened. Graham took possession of the ball on a pass from Noah, overcame a double team with a sweet lead pass to Matthew who finished the play off with a great shot into the back of the net. It was a great sequence for the boys. 9 minutes later, the Magic came back with a great sequence of passes in transition and finished the play with a blast into the net on Tommy's left. Our boys did not let up. They kept the momentum up. Defensively, the forwards and COM kept pressuring the ball up high. The effort paid off. Matthew took advantage of a little breakdown, dribbled to his right and scored his second just before halftime.

Halftime score: Hawks 2 PNA 1

Adjustments included a keeper change. Alex was put into goal for his ability to punt with distance and Tommy was moved to striker to take advantage of his speed. The game was back and forth. Both sides were displaying a great sequence of passes. I lost count of how many passes were completed because there was a lot going on. Michael had some success creating pressure up the middle. Andres had that look like he wanted the next goal badly. Matthew was relentless in the middle. Tyler was having by far his best game ever. Graham and Marco were both starting to come into their own. At about the 46th minute, PNA once again broke down our defense with a push to the right of the goal and found the back of the net to tie the score at 2-2. 6 minutes later, the Hawks finally found an opportunity with a penalty kick. This created the sequence of the game. Marco took the shot. Their keeper made another spectacular save. PNA then pushed the ball up the field and created a break-away opportunity. The forward took the shot, but Alex made the save going the other way. This particular sequence defined how the game was played - quality play all over the field. Marco would not be denied, however. 5 minutes later he found a seam down the right sideline. He put a centering pass in front of the goal. The ball deflected off a PNA defender, the keeper was caught off guard and the ball found its way into the back of the net. Was it luck? Probably, but I always believe that luck comes from preparation meeting opportunity.

Final score: Hawks 3 PNA 2

Credit to everyone on the field. These are the types of games where the final score is irrelevant. When our boys have the chance to play great teams, we get the chance to improve our game and validate their current state as a team. It is also great to see our boys put together a game that challenged PNA. Those boys have a bright future in soccer if their passion for the game continues into high school and beyond.

 Let's call out some boys.

 Tyler: Game of your life, young man. You play defense well. Your possession game is always improving. Your new nickname is Mr Utility. I can play you anywhere on the field.
 Mateo: I asked you to defend Andres specifically and you did just that. You are back to bulldog status. By the way, congrats on your brown belt. Marco: You found your rhythm today, especially in the 2nd half. Great game today.
Matthew: I have a vision for what you can do in the middle. You took the first steps to making that vision a reality. Monster game today, kiddo. Way to drive the offense.
 Ben: You have a style of play that makes you effective. Thanks for giving me your best effort. It makes a big difference in the game.
 Graham: You played tough all day. Your passing ability is very underrated. You are so close to turning into that player I see you becoming.
 Voodoo Ninja: I quote Bob Seger, "Like a rock!"

 This game is very cerebral. It was great to see the boys use their brains to compliment their athleticism. Through team play, they can set up teammates for those great moments.

Lateral Training and Youth Soccer

This past Sunday, the U9 boys had their first open inter-squad scrimmage of the season.  This after taking an 8 week break from soccer altogether.  The boys were deliberately put into different positions to try-out their talents somewhere outside of their norm.  Other area boys joined the scrimmage to get some time in.  On top of all this, several of the boys grew in height by an inch or two.  All of these challenges looked like a recipe for a train wreck of a game.

Instead of a fire drill, Sunday's scrimmage was probably the best display of tactical play I have ever seen from these boys.  Possession up the middle was sharper than expected as the center midfielders did an outstanding job quarterbacking the play on the field.  Chemistry quickly developed among the boys on both teams creating multiple touch sequences prior to shooting on goal.  The shots on goal were rockets.  I could tell that the boys were embracing the off hours shooting practice being offered.  This looked like a team of boys who have progressed considerably from the time off this Summer.

How does that happen?

It is abundantly clear that an exclusive focus on soccer may not be the answer after all.  The secret to your child's success in one sport actually comes from practicing other sports.  Baseball camp, basketball camp, golf camp and lacrosse camp gave my son a good boost in his confidence at that first practice.

Laterally training is especially important for a developing child.  While it is important to their physical development, it works even more on their ability to better interpret various game situations.  Baseball helps your child learn how to instinctively position themselves in a variety of plays (i.e. grounder to short, pop fly to the 3rd baseman).  Basketball helps develop a faster thought process with in a higher speed of play.  Lacrosse and soccer are VERY similar in how the game is approached tactically, except that one uses a ball and stick.  Golf?  Really??? Absolutely!  Golf teaches lessons to a future soccer player.  Have you ever been forced to hit out of the woods or play an imperfect lie?  Golf teaches a soccer player how to overcome adversity.  Not every transition is going to be played from "the middle of the fairway".  The player learns how to think his/her way out of trouble.  If you combine the aspects taught in these other sports, the mental approach to soccer suddenly becomes less of a challenge.

Parents, if you have a son or daughter that loves the game of soccer, do them a favor.  Give them a chance to train laterally through other sports.  It helps tremendously.  Sure they may like that other sport.  Remember, having fun is also part of learning these sports.  Every sport is just a game. 

If they end up liking that other sport so much that they quit soccer altogether, then perhaps they may have been pushed too hard to excel at soccer tot he point of burnout.   Remember.  Kids like fun.  Keep it that way. 

As for my boys, I cannot wait to see how this season rolls out.  Will they outperform the 14-2-2 record they compiled a season ago?  Maybe not, but based on Sunday's practice, that final record may not matter nearly as much as how well the boys overcome their moments of adversity, something that will have been taught to them through lateral training. 

Do Parents Understand?

In the past month, I have fielded several questions from parents in the community in the wake of their son/daughter completing another try-out with the area "travel" soccer team.  All of these questions stems from a bitter result at that try-out.  Here are some examples:

- The parent does not understand why the club would decide to move said parent's son/daughter to the lower level team as opposed to putting them on the highest level.
- The parent does not understand why the club would suddenly offer a "premier" team to parents (with a $300 up-charge) after try-outs are over and then expect a decision on playing at this level just two days before full payment is due.
- The parent does not understand why I would go out and create a team of my own when so many "travel" programs exist in the area.
- The parent does not understand...

Despite all of these questions and obvious frustrations, these same follow up this obvious frustration by begrudgingly writing a check in the amount of ~$1,500 - $2,000 to this club to cover the cost of the Fall and spring soccer seasons and some Winter activities.  In most cases, uniforms cost extra.

Oh, and they also get a car magnet to proudly show off that your son or daughter plays for that soccer team.

Parents, if this process affects you that much, then why do you even bother putting your child through this stress?  Think about it.  Your payment feeds into a multimillion dollar industry, most of which is being collected at this moment\l.  There are literally hundreds of soccer teams out there with professional coaches ready to take your money (by professional, I mean coaches that get paid to coach).  You have options, LOTS of options.  The local club with whom you have issues is not the only choice.  $1,500-$2,000 is a lot of money to pay to a club whose initial decision making process disappointed you.  Would you continue to go to the same restaurant over and over again because you have heard of the name yet you never cared for the food. 

If you truly want to find the club that is right for your son or daughter, you must first come to grips as to what matters more.  Are you motivated by your child being on the highest level team?  Are you more interested in social acceptance by ensuring that your child is on that local club roster in any capacity?  Do your research before deciding on a team.  Google "youth soccer".  Talk to the coaches.  Find out what their gold standard looks like.  What is their vision for teaching "travel" soccer?  Are they a coach or an educator?  By doing this, I can assure you that you will quickly uncover the difference between a high level club and one that is barely a notch above park district soccer. 

Maybe that car magnet means a lot more to you than you lead yourself to believe.

Elite Soccer Players - What are they?

Courtesy of 3four3.com.  This article hits the nail  on the nail on the definition of a true elite soccer player.  If you think about it, these concepts can apply to defining that elite player in other sports as well.

What’s an Elite Player?

This term “elite” is abused.  In conversations with players, parents, fans, coaches – the soccer community in general – I have heard many label this or that player elite.  And many times it actually is a decent player. But elite they are not!  Also, it’s amazing how many times the player that was referenced is in reality just one of the bunch.
The issue arises because people, specifically in the US, have the wrong idea of what constitutes elite.  Their metrics are just flat out wrong.  The most resounding error is focusing on physical attributes.  Is he big? Is he strong? Is he fast?
This does not make or break elite status!
What makes or breaks you are two and only two fundamental attributes: Technical Qualityand Soccer IQ.
The term elite should be reserved for those very few who’s technical quality and intelligence is in a completely different class as compared to others in their age group or league.  This is not always so easy to identify.  Here I present a “first cut” definition of what these terms mean.

Technical Quality

Some properties:
- First touch
- Short & long distribution (inside and outside foot)
- Shot (all types of strokes)
- Stepping on the ball
- How good is the weak foot.

To the well trained eye, those players that have supreme technical quality can be immediately identified by seeing how they “caress” – not kick – the ball.  There is a subtle, but very real difference.  The ball really does look like a natural extension of the body.  The body’s movement is fluid and the action of receiving and distributing the ball looks effortless.  The player is completely calm under all circumstances. They never really feel pressured, and it shows.
Unfortunately, what I’ve just described is not a measurable quantity.  So, to assist in the identification process, I’ll provide you with a simple measurement that can be made.  In general, look at the player’s turnover rate.
Those who have an elite first touch will retain possession much more upon receiving the ball.  This stat will become completely lopsided when looking at touches “under pressure”.  Those who don’t have quality will either turn the ball over, or get themselves into trouble.  By contrast, it is a virtual certainty the elite player will receive with no problem.
Those who have top notch short & long distribution, will have a higher passing completion.
Shots on frame and goal percentage should be higher.
Now, these measurements do not definitively tell you that a player with elite technical quality has been identified, but I believe it can help a bit to illuminate and guide those who don’t just “see it”.  It’s a start.

Soccer IQ

How deep is the player’s understanding of the game?  This comes down to decision making on the field.
Some properties:
- When to pass
- When to dribble
- When to go forward
- When to go back
- When to switch
- When to pause
- When to have a quick restart
- Defensive positioning
- Off the ball movement
… and the list goes on and on.

There are loads of possible decisions, and we will be covering lots of them in subsequent articles.
This time, I’ll focus on what is perhaps the most telling property.  If done correctly, it virtually ensures this player makes the right decisions for all the other situations.
That is, “When to Pause“!
This is not to be confused with a player just slowing down or stopping when confronted with a defender.  This is the deliberate stopping or slowing down of the entire game.  And it usually happens when the player is under no pressure whatsoever.  He is putting his team and the other team on “time out”.  His action brings everything to a screeching halt!  And everybody knows the difference!  You will feel it!
You may have rarely witnessed such a thing, and there’s a reason why.  Only players with elite level Soccer IQ’s know about this and know how to pull it off.
Why would someone ever want to stop the game like this?  Well, it is a very effective form of communication.  Depending on the game’s circumstances, he is in one action transmitting a very powerful message to his entire team, the other team, or both.
For example, the most common message that is sent to your team is:
“Relax! Stop playing so frantically, turning the ball over and forcing the issue!  Just take a breath, relax, and refocus …”
When done at the correct time, it is a sign of pure and total genius!
So there you have it.  Top notch Technical Quality and Soccer IQ are the two must-have attributes for a player to be considered elite.
Next time you watch a game, make a conscious effort and spotlight a player’s turnover ratealong with his decision making and that rare, but truly brilliant pause.  If he’s got it, you might be on to something special.


Spring 2013 - Game 8 FINAL RECAP

The season came to an end with a final showdown against the Chicago Magic at their home field.  It was extremely impressive how our boys came out to play considering the limited practice time over the past 4 weeks and on a field that they have not experienced before.  Playing on a turf not only is a ton of fun, but the speed of play picks up considerably.  These boys have a ton of speed.  I am not just saying that.  It has been told to me by a number of coaches we have faced all year. 

The Magic roster was made up of boys and girl from their other area teams.  They brought Andres Lemus (#50) and the girl had skills and speed that gave several of our boys fits to defend.

Let's recap the game.

First of all, it was cool to see how quickly the field was put together.  About 30 minutes prior to start, a crew came onto the field and taped down the lines, built the goals and were ready for kick-off right at the top of the hour.

The game started in the Magic's favor.  Being familiar with their field they applied immediate pressure on our defense and kept the ball on our side of the field for literally the first 5 minutes of the game.  At this point, the Hawks finally figured out the tempo of the game and turned the pressure up with good counters.  About 14 minutes into the first half, a sequence of passes created a good look for Aryan in the middle of the field, who made a nifty little cut move to his left and calmly finished the play with a goal.

The rest of the first half, all of the boys showed great effort, especially Tommy.  I laugh in amazement as to how awesome Tommy is at keeper.  (We will touch on that later).  His brilliance in goal once again kept the Hawks in the game.

Halftime score: Hawks 1 Magic 0

In half #2, it was more of the same.  The Magic continued to apply a ton of pressure with great technical ability.  The Hawks used their extreme athleticism to face the challenge and provide solid counters.  I counted at least six 3 touch sequences or better through the first 45 minutes of the game.  There was even a 7 touch sequence that the boys put together as well.  Tommy kept making highlight reel save after highlight reel save.  At about the 38th minute, the Magic pressure mounted enough that on one occasion they succeeded on a 5 touch sequence starting from a goal kick and culminated into a 1v1 between Tommy and Andres who nearly broke the goal with his blast into the side pocket.  For the rest of the game, it was technical ability vs athleticism.  Both sides played hard.  It was a fun game to coach.

Final score:  Hawks 1 Magic 1

Final record for the year:  14 wins, 2 losses, 2 ties.  Even more impressive is that the boys are 11-1-1 in the last 13 games.

I will be forthcoming in telling you all that our boys were outclassed technically.  You can tell where the Magic focus the majority of their time during practices.  However, did you all notice how our boys stayed in the game?  It was through athleticism, speed and  although limited, aggressive tactical play.  If they gain even some ball mastery, couple that with these other traits, our boys will be unstoppable.

Let's call out some boys:

Ace (Tommy): This nickname is based on your ability at keeper...all aces.  I struggle to find the words of amazement that define just how good you really are at keeper.  By chance, can we clone you?
Flash (Matthew):  By far your best game of the year.  You stepped up brilliantly on this day and delivered a strong presence both in transition and on defense.  You are going to be a GREAT center midfielder next year.
Silk (Tyler):  You were asked to step in for Dash (Graham) at wing midfield and you delivered in a way that far exceeded my expectations.  You came close to scoring on a couple of chances too.  I cannot believe how deceptively fast you are.  Like Flash, you saved your best for last.  You make a great midfielder young man.
Alex:  How can your nickname be Crash when your play is so smooth?  You make playing defense look so easy.  Your ball control is steady and you manage the game so well in the backfield.
Stallion (Marco):  You did an excellent job applying high pressure on the Magic defense.  Your ability to pass from the wing and athleticism is awesome to watch.
Mantis (Mateo):  Dude, when you are on, you are on.  Your fearlessness on defense is impressive.  You have fire.

Markie and Aryan:  Both of you...great finish to the year.  Your next endeavors takes you both to the Magic North in the Fall.  It has been great pleasure to have coached you both from the very seed in Park District soccer to where you are now.  I am going to miss both of you next year but will remain a fan of your progress for life.  While the front of your jersey will say Magic on it, your passion and love for the game is truly defined by the names on the back of your jerseys.  Good luck to you both next year. 

It is a team performance, which means that everyone should be called out.  Other clubs will boast that wins and losses do not matter.  I disagree.  I say that the scoreboard dictates who was the better team on that one given day.  The outcome of games is decided by the attitude of the team.  This takes self-confidence, which ALL of these boys have developed this year.

Do not confuse this with greatness, which is not always measured by the number of wins or the goals that one scores, it can be measured in the level of contribution on has in games.  That is why I love this game so much.  The boys can do so many different things in order to achieve greatness in the game of soccer.  Even better so, greatness does not have to be captured at 8 years old.  Every boy on this roster, now and moving forward, has a chance to be great starting at some point in his lives.  Why do I know this?  Because they have all had their moments in the sun at one point or another this past year.  As coaches and as parents we all participate in this program to find that greatness and bring it to the surface.  Feeling great, that is the ultimate victory for our sons.

Parents.  Thank you all for a great year.  It had some emotional challenges for me, but in all, I could not be more excited about the prospect of what these boys can become next year.  You are the reason for that.  You all have enabled a dream come true for me and I could not be more grateful for that.  I hope that you were not too bored with my drawn out emails (like this one), but I still hold that your education about this game is just as important as your son's.  Your input into the team has provided a tremendous amount of insight that it has allowed for us to make modifications, all of which were positive.  You all have been great friends.  Thank you for that. 

Steve and Edwin, thank you both for all of your help this year.  You two have been extremely valuable to managing the sideline during games and allowing the teachings to becoming three-dimensional.  You made it all work and also allow for the game plan to continue to evolve.  Again, thanks.

I am signing off for a while.  If I do not get a chance to talk to you in the Summer, have a great and safe one.  If you all want to remember the year in progress, please do not forget to check out the web page.  All of my game recaps have been posted and chronicled.

Thanks for everything.

Spring 2013 Game 7

Saturday was quite the game.  The boys remembered the last time they played this
Magic City team (FYI - that score was 7-2 on the losing end).  It also marked
the day I witnessed several of the boys learn from that loss in a BIG way and
take their game to another level.  Since that game, the boys have rattled off 10
wins in their next 11 games and playing the game one step closer to the level I
expect them to reach.  That is quite the accomplishment for these boys.  A solid
outing against a talented Chicago Magic City team would further validate what it
already perceived as a successful season.

The boys started the game strong.  They looked sharp in their possession game.
During  the first 7 minutes, the boys completes 27 passes with 2 4-touch
sequences and a pretty 3-touch sequence that set up Markie's first goal.  4
minutes later, Markie connected on another goal to put the boys up 2-0.  This is
when things started turning.  Moments later, Markie had an opportunity to send
home a 3rd goal on a penalty kick.  However, he would not be so lucky.  The
Magic keeper made a great save to prevent the goal.  This changed the momentum
of the game.    When a Jorge Valle coached team gets an opportunity to get back
into the game, they are going to take it....and that is exactly what they did.
They came back with 2 goals before halftime by setting up 1v1 situations against
our defense and capitalizing on good open looks at the goal.

Halftime score:  Hawks 2 Magic 2

The second half, started  much like the first half ended.  The Magic maintained
momentum of the game with their isolation game.  Early into the 2nd half they
once again scored on a nice shot from the right side to take their first lead of
the game.  While the boys may have been feeling the heat from the weather, they
never stopped playing.  Moments later, Ben broke loose in transition from a
midfielder's through ball from Graham and finished the play with a very nice
goal into the lower right corner to tie the game again.  The rest of the half
played out very evenly.  Entering the 57th minute, the score was even at 4-4.
Both teams were battling back and forth to get that one possession that creates
the winning score.  The referee allowe the game to continue into some extra
time.  With the way all of the boys were working on both sides, a tie would have
been more than satisfying.  Such would not be the case.  About the 62nd minute
from a throw in near midfield, Graham connected with Aryan who then led Markie
moving lateral from left to right.  He made one move against a Magic defender
and sent a shot from just outside the penalty box screaming to the far back
post.  That goal put the boys up 5-4.  One minute later, the game ended.

Final score:  Hawks 5 Magic 4

Give credit to the boys on the Magic.  They played very well and were not going
to let down at any point during this game.

Lets call out some boys:

Markie - Another great game!  You have mad skills.
Ben - Very nice break-out game!  Your goal was a momentum changer.  All around,
I was proud of what you did on the day.

Marco - I asked you to fill in for Silk on defense in his absence and you
delivered.  Good work.

Up next, the boys are back on the pitch for practice on Wednesday at 6pm to
start getting ready for the rematch against this same Magic team.  It should be
another fun game.  Have a great week!    

Spring 2013 - Game 6

It was a lot of fun watching these boys come together as a team and play a solid 60 minutes of soccer and by far their best 30 minutes ever in the 1st half in which these boys were a machine.  Up front the passing game was crisp, and creative with the boys tallying two 4-touch sequences.  In the 3rd minute of the game, Graham found the back of the net off an Aryan centering pass.  Moments later, Aryan scored again unassisted as a result of winning the ball on high pressure on their defense in possession.  Tyler found his first career goal by launching a bomb from midfield.  While his intentions may have been to clear the ball, Tyler had the ultimate clear.

Possession was there.  The boys applied a ton of pressure on offense.  All was good.

Halftime score:  Hawks - 4 Fox Valley Bayern Munich - 1

In the 2nd half, things did get interesting in the backfield as Fox Valley was able to apply a lot of pressure and create many scoring chances for themselves.  Let's not forget that they still have a good front line and can do some damage if given a little seam.  Despite  the challenge, Noah, Tyler, Alex and Mateo held their ground well and made me proud of their efforts.  That said, whenever they would convert on a goal.  Our boys were able to get it right back.  Two goals were scored off corner kicks.  Tommy's header goal off Markie's corner was ridiculous and a real momentum changer.  Matthew finished the game with yet another impressive goal.

Final score:  Hawks - 8 Fox Valley Bayern Munich - 4

Let's call out some boys:

Flash and Dash (Matthew and Graham):  These two boys are a big reason the offense is so successful at attacking from the wings.  Matthew, you got game.
Tommy: Seriously, your goal was lights out.  I heard your  dad on the sideline looking for  more  freakish-like goals later in the half.
Tyler:  How can we not call out someone who scores his first career goal.  Nicely done, young man.
Voodoo Ninja:  You continue to impress on defense.

Up next, we use Wednesday's practice to prepare for the Chicago Magic.  NO PRACTICE ON SUNDAY.  Mom's deserve a break - at least from soccer.  Practice on Wednesday will be at 6pm.  We will see the boys then.

Happy Mother's Day everyone.

Spring 2013 - Game 5

Rematches are never easy.  The situation was not too favorable for our boys - travel to Vernon Hills to play a rolling Cougars team the day after a solid victory against another division foe.  On top of that, the rematch also took away the element of surprise which meant that every goal will be earned. 

That prediction did not disappoint.  In fact, the game was so intense that I lost track of the game sequences.  None the less, I will do my best.

It started out as expected.  The Cougars had a little hop in their step.  The Hawks were ready for the challenge.  It took a little bit for either team to catch the momentum.  Fortunately, our boys got it first when Markie broke loose and launch a bullet through the back of the net - literally.  He kicked it through the small hole in the back of the net.  The referee missed the call, but later changed his call to a goal after Steve "negotiated" his position on the situation.  The Hawks kept attacking. A few minutes later, Matthew broke loose for the game's second goal.  The score held that way into the 22nd minute when Alex (playing for Markie at Center defensive midfielder who was out with a shoe issue) took possession
of the ball on a short pass from Tommy and found a streaking Matthew (by streaking, I mean that he was running really fast.  Nothing more) on a nice lead pass to set up his second goal of the game.

Halftime score was Hawks 3 Cougars 1

The second half started and you could tell that the Cougars got a little pep talk.  They came out blazing.  Their passing became a lot more crisp and they set themselves up well for a lot more offense than in the first half.  Our boys bent, but they diid not break.  On defense, we were pressured more.  On offense, there was a lot less room to turn with the ball as their defense collapsed well on our strikers.  The scoring was back and forth.  The Cougars worked the ball very well with their passing game.  Our boys created some passing sequences of their own to  keep possession and create solid offensive pressure.  The Hawks were able to
add some more points on the board thanks to a 50 second scoring binge by Aryan and a capper by Graham in the later minutes of the game.  Those goals were needed as the Cougars just refused to go away. 

By the 50th minute, the Hawks were gassed.  Boys were struggling to catch their breath.  They were trying their absolute best to keep the Cougars from closing the gap.  They smelled opportunity and tried their  absolute best to capitalize on it. 

Final score:  Hawks 6 Cougars 5

Credit the Cougars.  They played a solid game and their studs Noah (#66) and Milan (#4) tried their absolute best to take over this game.  As a whole this team has something that I want our boys to have, a solid foundation for possession soccer.  They have a very high ceiling and they pay attention.  Markie's only chance for a long distance free kick was blocked by the Cougar wall. 

Let's call out some boys:

-Today's win was hard fought.  No reason to feel down about this won.  Win or lose, it was a fun game. 
- Tyler:  A little slow on the start, but in the 2nd half you made it extremely difficult for us to take you out of the game.  Solid, solid play.
- Aryan:  Much better with the passing game today in the 1st half.
- Marco:  Even though you could not play today, you still came out, supported the team and listened to instruction.  
- Matthew and Graham:  You are getting there.  Each week things look a little bit better.
- Voodoo Ninja: Your defensive ability is downright awesome. 
- Did I see two 4-touch sequences in today's ball game?  I think I did.  That is a good stat.

Up next, we have Wednesday practice at 6pm.  The focus will be on choreographing possession soccer out of the back field.  Have the boys prepared to pay attention as we will be doing a lot of dry runs to start developing the habits.  Yes, there will be a scrimmage, but only if the boys demonstrate that ability to stay focused on the Coach's instructions.

See you all on Wednesday.

Spring 2013 - Game 4

That was a bit of a nail-biter.  

When the boys got to the field, they were loose and ready to go.  The start of the game showed our boys in good rhythm and pushing the ball up the field with some consistency.  The efforts paid off early as Markie's free kick on goal in the 5th minute was blocked, rebounded nicely by Graham and put in for the first score.  The Hawks made it 2-0 just moments later when Matthew did his usual thing and was able to convert on high pressure in the opposing third.  This was the difference of the game as from this point, the Palatine team woke up and began putting pressure on our defense in isolated attacks.  I will admit, this was something that I did not see coming.  The scoring was back and forth.  They transitioned up the middle a lot and were able to create clean looks on goal.  Our boys continued to counter-attack, creating free kick opportunities in the middle third of the field.  Markie would put it home on the set piece.  At halftime, the score was 5-3 in our favor.

The  second half was more of the same.  Give credit to the boys on defense they played well against the Celtics press.  Their bend-don't-break approach was enough to get the job done.  The final score was 7-4.

Gotta hand it to them.  The team from Palatine really kept the pedal down and gave our boys a run for the money.  They transitioned out of defense well and were able to create some good looks on goal, converting on a high percentage of chances.

While there were several coaching opportunities that came out of this game, there were a lot of positives to take out of this one.

- I am seeing a lot more possession in the midfield than just 4 weeks ago.  With all seven goals coming from midfielders, this is a good sign that things are going in the right direction.
- Marco.  Nicely done!  You are impressive.
- The strikers were limited on their shot opportunities, I was pleased with their ability to consistently pressure the opposing defense.
- Markie's ability to score on free kicks from 25-30 yards out is flat out amazing.  His skill from long range (and make it look easy) is something that is not common at this age.
- I am sending a shout out to my own son today.  Alex's game this season has been solid.  He is doing a great job in not only defending the ball, but being able to control it, have the patience to look at his surroundings and make a good pass to the midfield to start the transition.

Up next, we have the final game of the "4 games in 9 days" marathon.  The game is at Vernon Hills. After last week's game, they will be gunning for us with a more aggressive game plan.  Time to get ready.

We will go with the all white uniforms.  Game time is at 5:30PM.  Be there at 5pm.  

Spring 2013 Season - Game 3

The day after the 3-1 loss, the boys were back to business with a 3:00 PM matchup against the VH Cougars.  This team was interesting to watch during the pregame warmups.  Their focus was on ensuring discipline in their offensive attack, using the wings to take the ball up the field and give an effective centering pass.  I knew that this team was going to challenge our defense.

Before the game, The wing midfielders and strikers looked like they needed a little pregame pep talk.  I reminded these boys that if they work together through the passing game, the offense was going to be strong.  They needed to remember the discipline of using the pass before taking on an army of defenders.  Trust one another, and good things will happen. 

In the first half, the boys were in good form offensively.  They had a few early scoring opportunities but the result was not there.  In transition, the Cougars played the game just as we expected.  At the 6th minute, they broke the scoreless tie with the first goal of the game.  This woke up the offense and the wing midfielders and strikers began to settle into a rhythm.  In the 9th minute, Markie launched a corner kick to the top of the key where Matthew controlled the ball and fed Aryan a short cross which he put into the back of the net to tie the game.  The offense continued the attack and created three free kick opportunities in the Cougars half of the field.  Markie took the first kick from 15 yards out and sailed the ball over the post.  He then took the next two from 30 yards out and found the back of the net.  Matthew added his second assist of the game when he put a shot on goal from the top of the key and then redirected in by Ben. 

The halftime score was 4-1.

Usually, the boys are geared up in the 2nd half.  On this day, things were different.  The Cougars were not intimidated at all by the score of the game.  They came out in the 2nd half and applied a lot of pressure on our defense.  This effort broke down and confused our defense and they were able to close the gap to 4-3 by the 38th minute.  I made a wholesale substitution and put in a fresh defense and gave Tommy and Graham a breather.  We needed to take back that momentum at this time and the boys answered the call.  Moments later Matthew received the ball at the top of the key, made a nice little juke move on the defender and blasted a shot into the back of the net with his left foot.

In the final 10 minutes, the boys looked beyond exhausted.  In the defense, they looked to just clear the ball every time it was in their territory.  The midfielders were cramping up and the strikers had zero speed. 

The final score was 7-3.

The boys still managed to put in two more goals before the end of the game and the result as favorable, but there was a lot to take away from this game for Wednesday's practice. The boys looked to use the kick-and-run far too often to attack the opposing offense.  This style of offense rarely works at this level and will never work as theses boys get older.  In practice, we will go outside (finally) and go back to working on the possession game out of the backfield and better discipline the offensive transition.  I want to see a lot more movement to the midfielders in transition and pass with purpose to the strikers for the scoring chances.  This will take time, but I hope that the progress surfaces before the season's end.

Spring 2013 Season - Game 2

A game like Saturday is the best way to validate the progress that these boys put into their time with this team.   Our boys played with a lot of heart.  Losing 3-1 to this Chicago Magic team is not something to be disappointed about.  For the record, this was the most fun I had coaching.

In the first half, the boys started the game a little bit stronger than usual.  They set the tempo early and created some decent looks on goal.  At about the 10 minute mark, Guy broke loose into the penalty box and took a hard foul from behind.  It created the teams' first real chance to score with a penalty kick.  Markie is usually Mr. Automatic from this spot, but this time he came up short.  His shot to the lower right corner was stopped by a spectacular save from the opposing keeper.  The momentum then swung their way and they started pouring on the attack.  This is when Tommy took over the game and put on a clinic.  He made one incredible save after another and single-handedly kept our boys in the game.  The halftime score was 0-0.

In the  2nd half, our boys kept fighting hard for the ball, but they began to lose their passing discipline and resorted to a kick-and-run game.  This was a completely ineffective form of offense but the boys were running out of gas.  The Magic's offense looked to adjust by going somewhaat one-dimensional and looking to get the  ball to their stud player, Brooklyn Raines on every possession.   It paid off as he finally broke loose in the 37th minute and took advantage of a broken  play to score the first goal of the game.   A few minutes later he scored again.  In the 55th minute, Markie finally brroke the scoreless drought  by putting one past their keeper from 30 yards out.

In the final minutes of the game, the boys went into desperation mode to get the tying  goal, but Brooklyn  once again broke loose and scored for a third time.

The Chicago Magic, to their credit, did give a tough, tough challenge to our boys.  They have great talent at the top of their roster.  Brooklyn is a unique talent who can do things with the ball that not many 8 year olds can do.

There are several positives to this game.  
  • Start with the obvious.  Tommy played the game of his life in goal yesterday.  It will be a long time before you see another performance like that from an 8 year old (unless you are there when Tommy plays in goal again).  That was the gold standard of goalkeeping.
  • The defense again had a tall task of defending against great talent and again, they were remarkable.  The Magic offense had the boys on their heels, but the defensive effort neutralized the majority of them.  Alex's header was pretty cool to see.  Tyler was a boy possessed.  Noah had by far his best game ever and Mateo is a tough, tough little mother....(I will keep this clean).  Markie took on more of a CDM position on Saturday and quarterbacked another spectacular game. 
  • Because we were under a lot of pressure, the wing midfielders and strikers were in a lot of isolated situations.  That is a very unfair situation for these boys because they could not get into any rhythm against such a good team.  That said, I am proud for the way these boys kept their poise and kept applying pressure as much as they could.  As you may recall, practice has been geared towards a disciplined defense, possession out of the backfield and offense through the transition game.  This is the next coaching opportunity for us to focus on for the rest of the season.
  • You can tell that the boys have been working on controlling the ball out of the air.  Their technical skills are really starting to show up in games. 

Up next, we are back on the pitch today at 3pm for our match-up against the VH Cougars. Game time is at 3pm.  Be there at 2:30pm.  See you then.

Spring 2013 Season - Game 1

It has been 5 months since the boys last played an outdoor soccer game.  We move up two Divisions in the off-season.  Our first opponent (Fox Valley Bayern Munich) was an incumbent Division 2 team familiar with the style of play that is required at this level.  Finally, we all had to commute 45 miles each way just to get to the game.  Steve, Edwin and I agreed that this situation required a lot of mental preparation prior to the game.  We warmed the boys up with the usual regimen of 4v1 monkey in the middle to get the passing game tuned up.  Then followed that up with a scrimmage.  At first, things did not go as planned.  In fact, things went the way I had feared.  I put the boys through a brief session of "tough love".  They had to be reminded of what was ahead of them and that is was time to get their heads in the game.

We started the game a little flat.  Fox Valley Bayern Munich immediately took control, making crisp passes and moving the ball at will through their disciplined passing game.  This was the tempo of the game for about the first 15 minutes when they finally capitalized with a very nice one touch goal from their striker (named Arian) taken off a cross from their 2nd best player (named Noah).  That was the moment that our boys kicked things up a gear.  The defense, already at a solid level, stepped up their game even more.  Midfielders began to possess the ball more and use the pass to move the ball up the field.  The strikers finally kept their position and stretched the field vertically with the mere threat of their existence.  For the next 45 minutes, and especially in the 2nd half, the boys went back to business as usual, locked down their offense to just a few shots on goal, wore down their defense and finished the game with a 4-1 victory. 

Let's look at the highlights:
  • Our defense carried the team to victory yesterday.  Tyler, Noah, Alex and Mateo were all solid today.  In fact, they are solid always.  They had a tall task of neutralizing Fox Valley Bayern Munich's talented front line and did an outstanding job.  Their play was the key to the game.  Excellent, excellent work boys...ALWAYS! 
  • The passing game looked very good today.  Sure, they missed on a number of passes, but that is far better than not trying to pass at all.  Kudos to Markie in quarterbacking the transition game, avoiding the kick-and-run and setting up great lead passes to the wing midfielders and the strikers. 
  • I was also pleased with how the forwards and midfielders worked together.  Matthew's lead pass in transition to Aryan that set up the first goal was outstanding.  Matthew, Aryan and Graham then later set up a sequence of passes (also in transition) that nearly set up another breakaway goal.  Regardless, it was beautiful.  The combination of good passing and athleticism wore down their defense.  By the end, our boys were in charge of the tempo of the game. 
  • Tommy, Ben.  Both of you were awesome in goal.  You made some great stops. 
FACT:  Did you know that this is the first game that we allowed less than 2 goals in a game? 

I enjoy games like this a lot.  The boys played well enough to beat a quality opponent, but the game provided several coaching opportunities for the next practice.  Unfortunately, we only have one practice to prepare for the Vernon Hills Cougars, another Division 2 incumbent.  You all have seen the video of this team.  The scouting report suggests that our team defense will be put to the test again, but like I tell the boys.  Play our game and we win.  Play their game and we lose. 

NS Hawks Update - Spring Opponents Confirmed

Steve, Edwin and I went to the seeding meeting today with all of the other U8 teams in the YSSL.  Long story short, it was an interesting experience.  In the end, I believe that the league was successful in aligning the divisions based on team's abilities to the best that they could.  Here are the final results.

The NS Hawks were moved up to division 2 (up from division 4).  While that is good news, our opponents' home fields are much farther away than what we had in the Fall. They are as follows:

Division 2 Location
Chicago Magic City Chicago South
Chicago Magic PNA Des Plaines
Palatine Celtic A Palatine
Fox Valley Bayern Munich Carpentersville
NS Hawks Evanston
VH Cougars Vernon Hills

Good thing that 4 of the 8 Spring games will take place at St Joan.  The schedule will be set on March 16th and all changes must be final by March 30th without any financial penalty. 

This is a collection of some very good teams who are well coached.  While they are teams that should be respected, please remember that the Hawks are fresh off a division championship.  Our boys will be good enough to compete at this level. 

Spring is right around the corner.  Can't wait for the snow to melt so that we can get back to business.  Looking forward to a great season.  I bet you are all just thrilled to starting getting my email again.