Why that went in: Sean Franklin (LA Galaxy) vs Real Salt Lake

From tonight’s MLS playoff game…

I like this one because it’s a great example of what wide penetration can do to defensive shape. Here’s the video:

The first critical thing that happens is that the Galaxy striker, Gyasi Zardes, manages to reel in the ball in a tight space surrounded by three RSL defenders…

Screen Shot 2013-11-03 at 9.40.15 PM

…and push it wide to Robbie Keane.

Screen Shot 2013-11-03 at 9.40.47 PMBut as you can see RSL have numbers back, are marked up well and have covering defenders both in the box marking logical targets for Keane’s cross as well as out wide marking Keane himself. There are seven outfield players holding a good defensive shape but in two seconds it’s gone.

Screen Shot 2013-11-03 at 9.41.13 PM

Keane gains a very deep position without even having to take on a defender. In the process, all the RSL defenders focus on him and completely collapse down to the point that just as Keane cuts the ball back there are eight RSL players within eight yards of their own  goal. So when Keane smartly cuts the ball back into the massive space they’ve created…

Screen Shot 2013-11-03 at 9.41.53 PMIt leaves Sean Franklin with an acre of space and a couple of seconds to line up his shot…

Screen Shot 2013-11-03 at 9.42.05 PMAnd he still has no one within eight yards of him as the defenders had all left themselves far too much ground to cover unnecessarily. There are seven defenders to mark four Galaxy players in the box. No one thought to mark the logical space that a trailing mid would fill for just such a shot. If they had, not only would Franklin have had much more pressure on him as he shot it’s actually unlikely the ball would even have reached him as it would have been cut off.

This shot gives a better angle on just how much space RSL left for Franklin to operate in.

Screen Shot 2013-11-03 at 9.42.56 PM

Granted, it was likely the strike of a lifetime for Franklin but those happen.

Screen Shot 2013-11-03 at 9.43.22 PMEspecially when you give a player who isn’t the most adept at scoring a clear run at the ball because you’ve all been caught ball watching as Keane dragged you all down towards your own six yard box.

Credit to all three Galaxy players involved in the movement. Zardes wasn’t particularly graceful in gathering the ball and quickly moving the ball to Keane but it was essential. Keane just bided his time, allowed the RSL players to keep dropping off and then found the angle to cut the ball back into the huge space they’d vacated. Franklin kept it low instead of blasting it over the bar and the swerve took it into the side netting.

So, the value of wide penetration is primarily its ability to get defenders to collapse. You can try to penetrate centrally but it’s busier than wide channels so your odds aren’t as good. By getting close to the byline you force defenders to collapse closer to their goal because the attackers they’re marking can push forward without fear of being offside. The secondary benefit is that it can induce ball-watching in defenders as seen in the picture third from the top. By pulling defenders attention 90 degrees left or right you facilitate strikers being able to drift off central defenders in anticipation of a cross and midfielders to come towards the top of the box looking for cutbacks of the sort Keane expertly delivered.

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4 Responses to Why that went in: Sean Franklin (LA Galaxy) vs Real Salt Lake

  1. Fred Cutler says:

    OK, but the cut back is not a cut back of any deliberate, ‘expert’ variety. It’s Robbie Keane out of ideas, closed down by two defenders, assuming he’s not going to get the ball anywhere useful. He only gets lucky because the trailing wide defender (#14, Yordany Alvarez) is too busy pointing for his teamates than actually closing down Keane’s cutback option. The defending team’s advantage to having Keane defended by 2 of those 7 players, especially as he gets closer to the byline, is that he will have no option to play either a chipped cross over the keeper (a la UBC’s 3rd goal on Sunday) OR a cut back. But that only works if Alvarez isn’t a lazy bugger. And even then, the other defender, closest to the byline, is unlucky to have the not-even-deliberate cutback hit his calf and find its way to Franklin. It was headed for the penalty spot, aimed, I think, at a little move that Sarvas was making to his left.

    Still, the basic point that the defending team can’t leave that massive space between 30 and 15 yards from goal undefended is clear. I honestly think my U15 gold team who have only ever had amateur coaches is too responsible and intelligent to let this happen. But I don’t think any of these 7 players is the one to blame. If this happened to my team I’d be calling over to the touch line NOT any of the 7, but rather my central attacking midfielder who had watched Franklin get into that space undisturbed. NO team can allow the three most advanced players to loiter back and not prevent 30-yard strikes when the attack is so slow to develop as here. Being hit on the break is one thing, but on this one the blame lies with at least one of the three guys out of the video.

    • Gregor says:

      It’s impossible to know Keane’s intentions for sure but I think he played the cut back perfectly. Drawing the defenders down and then finding an angle between the defenders. Seemed intentional to me that he pulled the ball back into that space. As for defensive responsibility, there were more than enough defenders back to deal with the situation. Don’t think any of the remaining players should be blamed. The mids overcommitted in their back peddling and left that space when one, even two of them could have filled it as there was already ample coverage of the strikers.

      • TM says:

        I’m with Fred on this one, put the blame on the other 3 guys. 7 v 5 is hardly excessive in this situation as you had 2 guys on Keane preventing him to go directly to goal, 1 guy free to cover where needed and the rest man marking the other strikers. You take one of them out and if Keane finds the free man in the box to score everyone would be asking why was that man free or why was there not enough cover.
        If one of the 3 guys up front would just hurry back and anticipate Frankiin’s run into the open space in the top of the box we’d be pointing it as an example of defensive organization.
        20/20 hindsight IMHO.

  2. Fred Cutler says:

    I’m not talking about intentions. I’m inferring from his lack of head movement that he didn’t know he had a man running into that space — though he may have known there was space and played a speculative ball there. (If so, I’d say you’re just as likely to get scored on as score if you do that). But more importantly, the cut back hits the defender’s leg and takes at least a 30 degree turn back upfield. If it hadn’t been partially blocked it would have gone through the penalty spot. It’s really clear when you watch it in higher quality video on the MLS site.
    (It should be known that I have a hate on for Keane. First of all, he’s the bitch and whine at teammates kind of player that I absolutely detest. Second, he missed a sitter for West Ham that might have prevented relegation three years ago. He was out of shape and didn’t try, but still managed to blame teammates for everything he messed up.)

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