Counter Attacking and The Four Moments of Soccer

Like basketball the game of soccer is made up of 4 Moments;

  1. Opponents have the ball.
  2. Opponents lose the ball.
  3. We have the ball.
  4. We lose the ball.

Modern day coaches should have a working knowledge of the two transition Moments in soccer, Moments 2 and 4. They call these Moments “Fast break” in basketball or “Counter attack” in soccer.

As coaching becomes more sophisticated in the USA we are seeing more and more teams dropping deep outside their own penalty box, and defending with 10 players. Once an opponent is able to do this it is very difficult trying to break them down. 

We saw this in the NCAA Division 1 Final this past week between Stanford and Clemson. Stanford scored in the first 2 minutes and set up outside their own penalty box for 88 minutes. The more players Clemson threw forward to try and equalize, the more exposed they were to the Stanford counter attack. Stanford ended up 4-0 winners and constantly threatened to score more on an excellent counter attacking strategy.

Consequently, coaches must teach Moment 2 which is an important “Transition” Moment in soccer. When an opponent has the ball in attack they will spread out, width ways and length ways. This means when they lose the ball they are vulnerable to the counter attack – before they can get back and get organized. 

Consequently coaches should teach the players about Transition Moments in practice and make it part of their coaching philosophy. Visually, the players must be tuned in to these Moments and have an understanding of how to react when they happen.

Attacking transition Moments in soccer, typically, are;

  1. One of your players intercepts an opponent’s pass.
  2. One of your players wins a tackle.
  3. Your goalkeeper cuts out a cross or makes a save.
  4. Ball goes out for a throw in to you.
  5. You are awarded a free kick.

Not enough of our coaches emphasize recognizing these transitional Moments. I highly recommend making them a feature in your practices as spring approaches.


In this game the players play 2v2 to goals. The attacking pair has two teammates standing to the side of the goals they are attacking. To score a goal they must, first, pass the ball to their team mate who rebounds the ball for them to score.

The objective of the exercise is to get the players to look forward, immediately upon winning the ball – most important in counter attacking.

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