Where does soccer passion come from?

Where does soccer passion come from?

After seeing last week’s video where I asked players in Chinatown about their preferred 5-a-side formation, a friend of mine suggested I ask NYC Footy players how their love for soccer (well, being from Ireland, I said football) came about. So visiting the 11-a-side games on Saturday at East River Park, I was excited to hear what great soccer moments the players would recount. What soccer moments lit their passion?

But what quickly became apparent, is that, aside from a few select players, many of the American born and bred players didn’t have a moment that instigated their love for soccer. It was simply a case that when they were young they started playing soccer. They were brought up to play soccer. This created a slight issue for me making this week’s video, as the response “I just started playing when I was young,” didn’t really make for the video I was imagining.

This highlights what I think might be a cultural difference to other countries.

In the States (again, that’s what we Irish call the U.S.), what appears to be commonplace is that parent's enroll their kids to play organized soccer. Whereas in other countries, a passion for the game is passed down by elders out of a love for a particular club. Perhaps the kid is brought to a game, or perhaps they are made to watch it on TV. The kid has no choice in the matter. But they are often seduced by the loud crowd, the smell of the grass and the grand drama of it all.

Prior to the age of 7, I had no interest in soccer. I distinctly remember saying to other kids, rather pompously, “It’s just a bunch of people chasing around a ball.” In truth, I had absolutely no idea.

Then in 1990, the Republic of Ireland qualified for its first World Cup, which was taking place in Italy. I remember being made to sit and watch Ireland's opening game v England in my grandmother's apartment with my parents and various uncles and aunts. My family were not football mad in the slightest, but the country was all in on Italia 90 hysteria. Ireland saw that World Cup as one of the first times we were represented on a global stage. There was a huge sense of national pride for the Boys in Green.

During the course of the first three group games Ireland played, I quickly got swept up in the madness. I think I was surprised by how easy the game was to understand. “You mean it’s just about getting the ball in the goal? And whoever gets the most goals wins?” I mean what a simple (yet brilliant) concept.

By the time Ireland drew 1-1 with the Netherlands to progress out of our group, I was spending every waking (and most likely sleeping) hour thinking about soccer. Not just thinking. When I was drawing, I was drawing soccer pictures. When I was making Lego, I was making soccer stadiums. When I was reading, I was reading absolutely anything to do with soccer. And, of course, I was out in the garden endlessly kicking a ball against a wall. And too often kicking the ball over the neighbor’s wall, driving them nuts in the process.

After the World Cup I got sucked into following football in the pre-Premier League era. At the risk of sounding like an old man, it all seemed to carry more of a mystique back then. Less globalized. More exotic.

Watching soccer just made me want to play. Whenever something exciting would happen in the rare televised game (you might get one a week in the early 90s) I would run to the phone and call my best friend.

“Did you see that goal!”

Which would be quickly followed up by…

“Do you want to play.”

My feet would literally tingle with excitement to play when I watched games.

When we would play, we would just go out on the street. We would play till it got dark and we could barely see the ball. Our parents would have to demand that we come back inside.

Those were the days when there was no fear at all about letting your kids just go out and do their own thing.

Here is yet another difference between the U.S. and other countries. The U.S. is often frowned upon by foreigners for having such a heavy pay to play model. I think many of us would agree that this limits access and opportunity for people that might otherwise become soccer superstars. That said, while the rest of the world gets distracted by social media and the like, the US may just be ahead of the game in creating the next generation players. That’s another story.

For all my soccer passion though, I have to admit, the best thing about soccer, is that feeling of having a ball at your feet. And I think to truly love soccer is to know what that feels like. As the game has become commercialized to death in recent years, there is a lot to be said for getting right back to what it’s really all about - and that is simply the joy of playing.

In saying that, here is a great clip showcasing the action and national hysteria created by the Boys in Green at Italia 90.

Hope you enjoy the video. If you have any feedback, opinions, or ideas for future content just drop us a line.

The best formation for 5 a-side (5v5) soccer

On my way to NYC Footy’s Friday night games in Chinatown last week I pondered to myself what would be a good question to ask players during my weekly coverage of Footy happenings.

I confess that I consider myself as a bit of a diminutive Pep - that is a tactical genius. A wannabe anyway. 

So the question that came to mind was simply - what is the best 5 a-side formation?

The response I got from most was the 1-2-1 formation. Not taking into account the goalkeeper, the 1-2-1 might otherwise be known as the diamond. The thinking with the diamond is that there is a defensive player, an attacking player, and then two players on the sides that can move up and down. These two wing players should, if they do their jobs correctly, get up to support the attacking player, and then they should get back to support the covering defender.

Without giving it much thought, this formation should work well. That is, unless the opposing team use all 4 outfield players to put the pressure on when they get the ball. If they do that well, especially on a quick counter attack, you can quickly find yourself easily outnumbered, especially should your attacking player be lazy getting back. And let’s face it, we have all been guilty of that at times. 

See, five a-side tactics/ formations only work well if all players know and carry out their responsibilities well. But since many of us just come along for a kick about, things can become unwieldy pretty fast. 

Things are thrown off even faster when substitutions are coming on and off with good regularity. In one of my games last week, my team literally got caught out as we were trying to work out positions in defense as a substitution was coming on. The question of when is a good time for a substitution might be a subject for a future article 🤔. 

Other five a-side formations might include the 2-2. That is two defensive players, and two midfield/ attacking players. Again, if people adopt their responsibilities well, this is solid enough. It feels like it should be more solid than the diamond if the team plays together as a strong unit. But playing as a unit appears to rare enough in 5-a-side.

With the diamond formation there is a bit of an obsession with wing play. Which is rather impractical when you consider how small the fields are. Wing play even in the professional game has been a dying art for some years. The main idea of wing play - in the sexy sense - is that some player with great skill and speed goes by a player on the side before ultimately whipping a ball into the box for the striker to nod in. But if you go by a player on the wing on a 5 side field, your more than likely hitting the by line. Also, I rarely see crosses of any type in 5 a-side except at corner kicks. All a defensive player has to do in 5 a side to protect against wing play is stand back a bit from the attacking player. The attacking player will be forced then to come inside and shoot or pass inside. This can still be effective, but again, it makes the focus on wingers a bit futile. 

Then there’s the ultra defensive formation, The 3-1. In practice, it should be good at preventing you conceding. But in the end I think it plays out the same at the diamond. Eventually you have to try go forward, sacrificing the wing backs in defense.

There are so many permutations that play into your success in 5-a-side. Quality of player with game understanding being the most key. An intelligent player should know the players around them, know when to cover back, and know when to step forward. Football intelligence is pretty rare actually. Some players may have the skills, some players may be great goal scorers, but that doesn’t mean they have any football intelligence. 

At the Footy Fest this past June, I played alongside an incredibly skillful and powerful player. He blew my mind with what he was capable of. But he shared little in terms of responsibility towards his team. He was your traditional glory hunter. The type of player that infuriates managers in the professional game (5-a-side managers are more forgiving…because there are none). Anyway, they are often considered to be a luxury. A famous example of the glory hunter was David Ginola. Ginola was spectacular going forward but not much use to the team at large. Some say that Cristiano Ronaldo in his heyday was this type of player. Though he got away with it because of how extraordinary his skill was in attack. 

Anyway, I went off on a little tangent there. Let’s get back to some Pep like thinking. 

What everyone is discounting here is the goalkeeper. In 5 a-side the goalkeeper should be considered almost like an outfield player. Think about the Bayern/German goalkeeper Manuel Neuer. When Germany had the ball he would come far out of his box , sometimes as far as the halfway line. The whole defensive line of Germany would push far up and and press the opposing team back into their last third.. The opposition team would be so hemmed in by 10 oppressive Bavarians. They would be suffocated. Often the best an opposing team  could do was clear the ball long, in which case Neuer was often there to sweep it up with no one there to pressure him. Neuer was the classic sweeper keeper. 

In 5-a-side what you really want then is the whole outfield team attacking together as a unit, and once you lose the ball, the whole team needs to get back and pressure the opposing team to get the ball back. Barcelona under Pep were masters at this. They attacked together, but when they lost the ball, everyone bust a gut to get the ball back as fast as they could. No one abandoned that responsibility, including Messi. Opposing teams never had time to breathe against Barca. 

Peps Barca were marveled for their ability to attack, but in truth, it’s how hard they worked to get the ball back once they lost it that was their main strength. 

This plan is the most courageous in 5-a-side. But any other formation usually takes two players out of the game itself, and sometimes 3 - the goalkeeper, the holding defender, and the sit up top striker. This only allows 2 players to be flexible. The question is, why take 2 or 3 players out of the game? 

After interviewing players and pondering further, I’ve concluded that the most effective strategy is when everyone moves up together, and everyone moves back together. That includes the keeper sweeper. You must avoid getting spread out, avoid getting stretched. Short quick passes are the order of the day to unlock the opposing team.

It goes without saying that any of these formations only work if players know their responsibilities, especially when the team loses the ball.

Do you play 5-a-side? What say you?