Liverpool Reserves 4 - 2 USMNT U/20 Wednesday July 18th, 2012

Liverpool Reserves 4 - 2 USMNT U/20
Wednesday July 18th, 2012
Liverpool Academy. Liverpool, England

The US Men’s U/20 National Team trained at the Liverpool FC Academy prior to their participation in the Northern Ireland Milk Cup where they were to meet Denmark and Turkey in group play. The US concluded the training program with a game against their hosts who fielded a team of trial players and professionals of various ages – several of whom had made, or were on the edge of making, appearances for the Liverpool first team.  Following the game the USMNT travelled to Belfast finishing fourth after suffering defeats to Denmark and Chile and a 1-0 victory over Turkey. The team is now in the early stages of preparation for 2013 U/20 World Cup. Head coach was Tab Ramos and Brian Bliss, Columbus Crew Academy Director, served as the assistant on this tour.

The eighteen man US squad consisted of eight collegians, three MLS Academy players, two US Soccer Academy Developmental club players, three Mexican league professional players, one with a European professional team and an unattached goalkeeper.

The US spent a good deal of the time in their own half defending, which was to be expected against squad members of a top English Premier League side. As assistant USMNT coach Brian Bliss said after the game, “It takes a while to get acclimated to the speed of top English football.”  The saying that “Premier League players don’t play one touch football, they play half a touch!” was self-evident in this game with the Liverpool team zipping passes around the field at lightning  speed and with very few first touch mistakes. The final score, 4 – 2 to Liverpool, was just about right, Liverpool hitting the post on several occasions and the youthful Americans clearly struggling to come to terms with Liverpool’s uncompromising momentum. That being said, the US team had some excellent combination play at times and were dangerous on the counter attack. 

Games of this nature are always helpful to coaches and analysts because the standard of play is high and both of the teams are able to compete without things becoming too ferocious. Sometimes high level games are so impassioned that any attempt to play football is strangled by tough tackles and desperate long ball passing. The fear of making mistakes takes the game over. Although this was not the case here the US players made a notable number of unforced errors compared to the Liverpool players. There is, of course, a different mentality for a team playing a practice game in preparation for a tournament compared to professional players who are being evaluated every day, every game and every practice to see if they are good enough to make the grade. Clearly players who make a living day in and day out in, what can only be described as, “ a brutal environment.”  have the advantage over a touring team in a foreign country and this could well have been the key to this game. Plenty of positives came out of this game for the US team once they did acclimate and I have chosen a couple of areas which seem to, continually, be an issue with our players. 

liverpool reserves

Inability to keep possession of the ball in opposition half of the field

Possession statistics do not mean very much if the majority of passes counted are made ten yards outside your own penalty box. In my view possession statistics are only, really, put to the test when measured in the opposition half of the field. This is just one of the issues which beleaguered the English National team in Euro 2012 and is a massive difference between Spain and most other countries at the international level. Keeping the ball in the opposition half forces the opponents to work hard on defending, provides multiple penetration opportunities for the attacking team and enables the attacking team to press and squeeze the opposition when the ball is lost due to the fact that the attackers are, relatively, close together when they lose the ball. My observation was that the Liverpool players were able to maintain possession of the ball in the US half of the field much better than the US in the Liverpool half because of these small things;

  1. Verbal communication. They help each other by talking with each other giving verbal advice as to their availability, who is open and where they want the ball passed to. US players were much quieter.
  2. Early Movement. Liverpool players moved to support a team mate “Before” the ball reached that team mate. Combined with early verbal communication this enabled players to play one touch.
  3. Early Decision Making. Liverpool players were more aware of their options due to familiarity and continually “scanning” the field knowing what they would do with the ball before receiving it.
  4. Ability to receive a hard pass. The Liverpool players rarely bobbled a ball even when passed with lightning speed. Although our US players have improved in this area they still make too many first touch mistakes.
  5. Pass and receive with various surface areas. Ability to receive and make passes with various parts of the foot is critical in tight spaces.  My only criticism of Liverpool’s passing is that they rarely used the “Brazilian” pass which involves playing the ball with the front foot – a pass which is much easier to disguise.  Other than that their ability to pass and receive a ball when played at high speed was awesome.    

Bodywork

The ability to shield the ball, win shoulder to shoulder challenges, hold the ball up against an opposing back line player, bump a player and come off the player were all skills well developed in the Liverpool team and noticeably less well developed with the US players. The importance of upper body strength and the ability to check into a player before being checked into, were apparent for all to see.  As coach of the USWNT Anson Dorrance did a marvelous job in teaching this skill and I have always thought our women were better than our men in this department. We sometimes suffer from the false notion that soccer is a non - contact sport in the USA and our refereeing sometimes reflects that - our players need to be allowed to, fairly, fight for the ball combining physical strength with timing and balance. 1 versus 1 to a small goal and 1 versus 2 and 2 versus 3 for possession are good exercises to develop this skill. 

liverpool academy prozone

Game Savvy

Liverpool dictated the speed of the game from start to finish and, although the US came back from 2 – 0 and made it 2 – 2 there was no way the home team were ever going to lose. The rhythm and cadence of the whole game seemed to lie at the feet of the Liverpool midfielders who slowed the game down and sped the game up by the direction and tempo of their passing. This is where having a couple of really top class, confident, players comes into play and the Liverpool team had enough highly experienced talent out there to take control of the game at 2-2, raise the tempo of and score two more unanswered goals to put the game beyond doubt. 

Observations and conclusions

Technically and tactically, the ability to play with composure under pressure separated the two teams – and I have outlined the skills, I believe, are needed to operate in tight quarters. Keeping the ball in the opponents half of the field for significant time periods gives teams opportunities to play killer passes into the penalty box beside and between defenders. This capability is something we must keep working on with our US players. Playing in a highly charged environment every day is, undoubtedly, a major factor in the development of the elite players Liverpool have. In our country this places enormous emotional demands on the coaches who must, continually, push, press and prod players to develop high intensity training habits. This is an exhausting task and not for the faint hearted. As a coaching community we need to engage more often in the dialog of how we develop a, truly, competitive environment every day in practice. 

Globalization

Another interesting issue which came out of this match is the effect that globalization has had on the game. As the movement of international players between the continents has become so pronounced clubs now have access to top players from all over the globe. The quality of play from the top clubs has exceeded that of national teams. Just how well the Greek National team, or the Scottish National team would do in the English Premier League is an interesting question to ponder. Indeed it would be fascinating to see how many national teams could survive week in and week out in the EPL or the Bundesliga ….Spain?....maybe…Brazil?...maybe…..England…? The world of soccer has shrunk and clubs are able to bring players in from all over the world, thus providing the top clubs with a much wider spectrum of talent than do many national teams.  

L – R US U/20 National Team Coach Tab Ramos, Jeff Tipping, US U/20 assistant Brian Bliss at Liverpool FC Academy. 

US Roster by Position:

GOALKEEPERS (2): 1-Cody Cropper (Unattached; Athens, Ga.), 18-Kendall McIntosh (Santa Clara; Santa Clara, Calif.)

DEFENDERS (6): 5-AJ Cochran (Wisconsin; St. Louis, Mo.), 14-Holden Fender (Concorde Fire; Marietta, Ga.), 4-Eric Miller (Creighton; Woodbury, Minn.), 3-Juan Pablo Ocegueda (UANL Tigres; Riverside, Calif.), 2-Boyd Okwuonu (North Carolina; Edmund, Okla.), 15-Walker Zimmerman (Furman; Lawrenceville, Ga.)

MIDFIELDERS (6): 8-Benji Joya (Santos Laguna; San Jose, Calif.), 12-Mikey Lopez (North Carolina; Mission, Texas), 10-Collin Martin (D.C. United Academy; Chevy Chase, Md.), 16-Daniel Metzger (Maryland; Staten Island, N.Y.), 13-Dillon Serna (Colorado Rapids Academy; Brighton, Colo.), 6-Wil Trapp (Akron; Gahanna, Ohio) 

FORWARDS (4): 11-Daniel Cuevas (Santos Laguna; Sacramento, Calif.), 9-Alfred Koroma (Solar Chelsea SC; Southlake, Texas), 7-Victor Pineda (Chicago Fire; Bolingbrook, Ill.), 17-Mario Rodriguez (1. FC Kaiserslautern; North Hollywood, Calif.)