New England Soccer Today

Technically Speaking: #NYvNE

Photo credit: Kari Heistad/

Photo credit: Kari Heistad/

Welcome back to another edition of “Technically Speaking,” where our very own resident coach and former pro Rick Sewall takes a deeper look into the Revolution’s latest performance.

Have any questions you’d like Rick to address? Feel free to ask away in the comments section below.


From your own experience, when a team starts as poorly as the Revolution did on Saturday, who’s typically at fault: the players for not being mentally locked in, or the coach for not getting his players motivated?

Rick: If the poor start was a question of mental focus, the onus is on the players. I’ve never been a great fan of pre-game pep talks. From a purely motivational standpoint, it is fundamentally up to the players themselves, especially at the professional level, to prepare themselves mentally for a match. Especially because of the length of the season and the large number of games, pre-game hype by the coach can seem artificial and fall flat.

Self-and team-motivation should have been easy for the Revs in this game, as they were playing an important game against a big rival. At the end of the game, Jay Heaps assumed responsibility for the loss on the grounds that he had failed to give the team the needed “edge” to compete successfully. My first response to this was that that’s not his job – the players themselves are responsible for their focus or “edge.” But in another sense maybe he was right, given that the Revs’ fundamental execution in this game, particularly on defense, was seriously lacking. The best way a coach can “motivate” his team is to make sure they enter the game confident in both their offensive and defensive preparation. In other words, sound fundamentals will make it a lot easier to acquire their “edge.” And all the edge in the world won’t hold if the fundamentals break down.


What can a coach really do after watching his team concede three times in the first 12 minutes?

Rick: He can guide them to several winning attitudes. First, play as hard and as cleanly as they can, doing their best to avoid being carded. They should make every effort to show good sportsmanship to the opponent and referees (never complaining about bad calls, perceived or real, to any official on the field), in order to maintain their focus on catching up. Second, do not ever vent frustration. Doing so is, if nothing else, a sign of mental weakness. Third, never give up. For a team to recover from a three-goal deficits difficult, but it can happen.

If a team plays this way when a game is more or less out of reach, they will gain the respect of the opposition, the referees, and the fans and (probably most importantly) can leave the field with heads held high.

I might add that I would behave as a coach the same way I would expect my players to behave. If you coach long enough,you’re very likely to find yourself in a position like this, so it’s best to be ready for the possibility.


After the game, Red Bulls winger Lloyd Sam was surprised by the amount of space he was given during the game. Do you think that this was a byproduct of something you’ve pointed out in the past—the Revolution’s lack of speed on the wings?

Rick: Lloyd Sam is just the type of winger Chris Tierney is going to have trouble with: he is faster than Tierney, has good moves, and plays a smart game. To answer the question directly: Yes, Tierney’s lack of speed contributes to the room Sam had to operate. Backs instinctively give space – and should – to a faster opponent.

Another factor that may hurt Tierney’s and London Woodberry’s ability to mark opposing wingers effectively is the team formation, the 4-2-3-1. Because there are only four dedicated attacking players, the left and right backs are asked to make big contributions to the offense, and they often do so with their very effective crosses. As a result, they end up spending a lot of time in the offensive half of the field, which makes it more difficult for them to do their primary job of playing defense. In other words, if an advancement fails, it can easily be turned into a counterattack problem because both wingbacks are stuck up front, putting a lot of pressure on the defensive midfielders (who may also be committed to the attack) and the center backs.

The coaching staff might consider changing the team formation – or at least its own wing-play strategy – when an opposing team(like Dallas or the Red Bulls) has speedy and skillful forwards.


Given what you saw during Saturday’s game, if you were leading Revolution training this week, what would you have the players work on?

Rick: First, I would make absolutely clear what every player’s defensive responsibility is, from center forward to keeper, both during the run of play and on free kicks. Overall, the Red Bull team was given too much freedom. I would discuss the dangerous players NYC FC will have, especially David Villa. I would also stress the importance of body positioning when using the offside trap (a strategy I would like them to rely on less). Instead of having their backs to the endline, they should face the sideline, so that if the trap is beaten by a wily forward, a defender has a better chance of catching him because he doesn’t have to turn before giving chase.

Second, I would dissect the three first goals vs the Red Bulls, pointing out that the defense was fundamentally unsound on all three. How can any player, especially of the quality of Bradley Wright-Phillips, be left totally unmarked while standing practically inside the six-yard box? Farrell was in front of Wright-Phillips, paying him no attention. Woodberry was casually approaching him, but seemingly not too concerned. Only when the perfect cross came across from Sam did the Revolution defense show some awareness and urgency, but by then it was far too late.

To defend properly, a defender has to stand between his mark and the middle of the goal. He should face neither the ball nor the mark directly, but has to turn his body so he can see both. This takes concentration, but can be done if the defender shifts his eyes almost constantly from the ball to his mark and back. A clever forward will try to cut in front of or behind a defender and will always attack the ball, but if the defender stays between the mark and the center of the goal and attacks the ball from that vantage point, he will win the battle every time.

I don’t ever recall seeing a Revolution player defend this way. They generally do attack the ball very well, but they don’t do so from proper defensive positioning – they ball-watch far too much. Their obliviousness to proper defensive positioning before the real danger arrives (the ball) is hard to fathom and is costing the Revs preventable goals.

Jose Goncalves looked very heavy-footed before the Sam cross to Wright-Phillips. He could have blocked it if he had been more on his toes and had his feet closer together. Largely because of his body position, he lacked the agility to block the shot when he should have.

Scott Caldwell was aimlessly wandering around the field before the cross, looking unsure about what he should do. He should have fallen back to give Goncalves immediate support considering what a threat Sam can be.

On the second goal, Sam was left wide open before receiving the pass and scoring. The Revs appeared mesmerized by the Red Bull passing.

Wright-Phillips ran by Andrew Farrell too easily for the third. Farrell has got to learn how to track.

The Revs seem to have a basic lack of knowledge when defending in the penalty area. This can look like a lack of urgency, but I suspect they are simply confused.

Third, no matter how the Revs choose to shoot at goal – with the inside, with the inside of the big toe, the instep, or just a toe poke – they absolutely need to shoot low. That way, at least the ball won’t go over the crossbar. The Red Bull fourth goal– important at the time – went in because of a low shot and a deflection. Shoot for luck,I say.

Having a certain “edge” over an opposing team is something all coaches work for, but if your fundamentals are not 100% sound, your “edge,”if you ever had it,will quickly dissipate.Same is true in all sports.


What stood out the most to you about Saturday’s game?

Rick: The three goals the Red Bulls got in the first 12 minutes, and their several excellent ensuing chances (even excluding the penalty, which could have made the score even more lopsided). Goncalves’ red card so late in the game was a self-indulgent display of frustration.


  1. Peter

    July 14, 2015 at 1:30 pm

    Hi there, I only saw highlights of this week’s game with the RED BULLS looking at the first goal that NY scored Shuttleworth if he was controlling the penalty box area instead of standing near his goal line could have made an effort to collect the ball.Also Tierney and Woodbury seem to overlap very well 4 the REVS but they have defence duties aswell? Hey Rick do u think the REVS are getting burnt on there high DEFENSIVE LINE and that is one of there problems

  2. rick sewall

    July 14, 2015 at 8:00 pm

    Hi Peter- As Lloyd Sam was inside the penalty box and very close to the end line, Bobby had to position himself on the end line and also on the near post, so he had no chance to catch what was a perfect Sam cross. Those at fault for the goal were Farrell, Woodberry, Goncalves, and Caldwell, likely in that order.

    Tierney and Woodberry, as defenders, have defense as their primary responsibility. It is up to the coaching staff to sort out their overall jobs. How much, for example, should their offensive responsibilities be restricted, if at all.

    As I have said before, a team lives and dies when depending on an off side trap with a high line. I don’t disagree with the use of the trap, but I would be careful when using it. I don’t want to see another Robbie Keane winning goal in last year’s MLS cup, as he did while beating a Rev off side trap.

  3. BWG

    July 15, 2015 at 9:06 pm

    Hi Rick,

    This continues to be one of my favorite (along with 5 things) columns on NEST. One of the areas I enjoy most is the dissection on fundamentals and technique. It is also one of the areas I somewhat disagree with you on. You often raise (not directly in this article but implied) that coaches neglect these but could teach them. This is the area I disagree with and what I feel holds soccer In this country back more than any other. It is not talent desire the pay to play system as much as it is uneven and poorly trained coaches at all levels. I disagreed with the heaps signing and often post about his deficiencies but this is not his fault. It is pervasive thoughout the country at all levels. What we are seriously lacking are trained coaches such as yourself to teach and work with our youth and professionals. My Very young u10 son plays club soccer for one of the largest and most recognized teams in northern New England. The scary thing is the coaching is so uneven despite its reputation. Whenever I read your posts I have more than a twinge of jealousy as I wished he had coaches as knowledgable as yourself who were taught in both proper technique as well as how to teach it. (You don’t offer camps do you?). Heaps and his staff I think are simply incapable of teaching proper shooting technique or defensive positioning or making the necessary tactical adjustments because they were not trained to do this. I’ve seen a lot of commentary criticizing fagundez or Rowe for not taking the next step in their development (to an extent Farrell as well), is it the player fault or is it the coaches not being capable of developing the youth or utilizing them effectively due to their own lack of training.

  4. Rick Sewall

    July 16, 2015 at 3:41 pm

    BWG: As usual, the points you make are provocative and go right to the problem of American soccer education. The basic issue is that, overall, the vast majority of American coaches approach soccer teaching from a tactical standpoint as opposed to a technical one, building on what they see as their own strengths but thereby taking the cart before the horse. As a result, there has been very little technical education in America, and what there is is often flat-out wrong. Probably the main example of this is what Hubert Vogelsinger used to call “the all-American s**t kick” (later abbreviated to “the All-American”), an all-purpose kick (shooting, crossing, chipping) where the knee of the kicking leg is rotated outward, contact is made with the inside of the big toe, the swing is circular, and the follow-through ends with legs crossed. I have discussed proper shooting technique several times previously in my NEST columns, so I won’t go into more detail on this point now.

    Here’s an anecdote that, from my point of view, tells the sad story in a nutshell: The players on the U-16 Massachusetts girls’ ODP team had been set by their coach to practice taking shots on goal. One of the best players approached the coach about 8 minutes into the exercise, saying, “There’s something off in my shot, and I can’t figure out what it is. Can you help me?” His response? “You’re doing great. Just keep on practicing, and it will come out all right.”

    I ask you, can you imagine that answer issuing from the lips of a tennis or golf pro? “There’s something wrong with my backhand.” “Just hit another fifty balls, and everything will turn out all right.” No – not possible. A tennis pro would break down the player’s foot and body position, grip on the racquet, angle and trajectory of the swing, and probably ten other elements, to make perfectly clear what mistakes were leading to the mishits. In soccer, by contrast, coaches just send the players off to practice their mistakes.

    The main reason coaches are averse to technical instruction is that they don’t know how to do it. Some of them may have excellent technique themselves, but when asked to teach a technique all they can do is demonstrate and say, “There – do it that way.” Others don’t even have that much to go on.

    When Austrian national team player Hubert Vogelsinger came to this country, he saw the need to break down each soccer technique the way a golf or tennis pro breaks down the swing, so that it could be taught through a step-by-step method to American players who were growing up without a built-in visual imprint of what a good shot, pass, or trap looked like. He developed a detailed, painstaking, and pedagogically sound system for building technique. Those who have been through the Vogelsinger system believe in it because they have personally felt the results in their own success. I was lucky enough to play and work with him intensively in the ‘60’s and ‘70’s, and I’ve been building my own instructional methods in parallel with his since then.

    Most coaches, though, have never personally experienced this type of program. They may be unaware of its benefits, or they may just feel helpless about how to teach something they don’t really know. Their response at that point is not to undertake to learn the method, but to turn to what’s easier for them to master, which is tactical instruction.

    Indeed, most coaches, when attending clinics, are looking only to take home with them some new tactical drills that they think will improve their teams. The trouble with tactical instruction is that it will only truly work when it is an overlay to a good technical foundation. That’s why Coach Vogelsinger used to say that the best tactical session is a technical session.

    Unfortunately, this problem can affect American coaches from kindergarten right up through the professional level. In an ideal world, someone on the Revs’ coaching staff would have the expertise necessary to correct their players’ technical deficiencies, especially in kicking/shooting, or they would at least think it an important enough lack to outsource the job to someone else.

    But there is a distinction between the kind of technical deficiencies I harp on all the time in this column and the problems the Revs are having getting their team to man-mark properly. The latter is a basic soccer fundamental, not so much in the realm of technique as in the realm of individual tactics. I’m quite confident that this is something the Rev staff could make significant progress on, if they chose to stress it.

    I did run camps in Newton and Milton (MA) for many years (1990-2012), under the name Rick Sewall Soccer Tech. I’ve retired from the camp business now, but I still do individu

  5. rick sewall

    July 16, 2015 at 4:08 pm

    al and group lessons.

    • BWG

      July 17, 2015 at 8:59 pm

      Hi Rick,

      Thank you as always for the depth of your reply and reaffirming my own beliefs in terms of the technical know how of American coaches. I hope
      You are enjoying your semiretirement and the young players in Massachusetts who were lucky enough to train and learn from you are most certainly better off for it! Please keep up the good work here and thanks for your patience with my questions and comments.

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