Questions: Defending Set Pieces in Major League Soccer

Sporting defends against Montreal on Jun 1, 2013. Credit: Bill Barrett -

By Tony Edwards – San Jose, CA (Jun 11, 2013) US Soccer Players – In Tuesday’s column, Tony asks about MLS teams and defending set pieces, wonders what Red Bulls coach Mike Petke pictures for his team, and breaks down the home/road splits for the Galaxy.

Can any MLS teams defend set pieces in the box?

It was Seattle’s turn on Saturday night to illustrate how not to defend a set piece launched into the box.

It’s not the marking system or an apparent lack of communication. While fingers are pointed at the goalkeeper (and sometimes the goalkeeper points back), it is rarely any one player’s fault.

For all the easy talk about a certain defending team player losing his man, what isn’t noted is the time spent on devising and practicing systems of picks and screens to free attackers in the box. The goalkeeper sees the apparent chaos in front of him and defenders struggle to work their way through a maze of bodies. If a defending player tries to run through a pick and knocks down an attacking player who is obstructing him, what do you think the call is? Penalty.

This is a case where defending needs to become more sophisticated. It’s not just staying with your attacker, but having a team focus on how to defend the set piece. It means devoting critical practice time to it and, during those set plays, having one guy in charge, usually the goalkeeper.

What does Red Bulls coach Mike Petke see when he closes his eyes?

A ticker tape parade in Harrison, accompanied with the MLS Cup.

In a charming profile of the Red Bulls coach from the Newark Star-Ledger, Petke admits he turned down a move to Germany to stay with the MetroStars during his playing days. He also reveals that six months after he bought the house he lives in, he was traded to Colorado.

For a franchise that remains the only one of the 10 original franchises left without a major trophy, what would qualify as success in other MLS cities is just the starting point for the Red Bulls. And no matter how passionate a coach Petke is, his team is still far too inconsistent and unbalanced, traits that plagued the team last season. And the season before. And the season before.

Which team in MLS has the best home goal difference?

The Galaxy’s problems aren’t apparent at home, where their +10 goal difference along with a 4-1-1 record would have them in first place if replicated on the road. Instead, Los Angeles has given up twice as many goals as they have scored on the road (six for and 12 conceded) and have the record to go along with that kind of performance (2-5-1). It’s more than just adjusting to player absences for Los Angeles. Every team in MLS has to adjust.

What did Mark Watson identify as something he’d like to work on immediately as he takes over in San Jose?

Showing he’s mastered the vernacular of coach-speak, Watson chose “defensive organization” during an interview with Center Line Soccer. “What I do want to bring to the team is more work on our defensive organization,” Watson said.

How about San Jose’s direct and unimaginative style of play? One in which even San Jose’s President, Dave Kaval, noted in a separate interview with the same site. “Mark in his new role is going to have to look at the style of play and make some determinations,” said Kaval.

Watson said separately that he though the team was getting an undeserved reputation for direct play.

In the interview, Kaval announced that General Manager John Doyle, Watson, and he will have a “one-day retreat” this week to discuss style of play and other on-the-field issues.

Do we need to point out that if Chivas takes just four points from its games in hand, they would be in front of San Jose. Or that the Earthquakes are one of four teams that haven’t won on the road this season (along with Chicago, DC, and Toronto).

Which regular wears the highest uniform number in MLS?

When Vancouver lost Andy O’Brien Saturday night in Seattle, the game changed in the Sounders favor. O’Brien also made an impression by wearing the number 40. As it turns out, his wasn’t even the highest uniform number worn this past weekend, as Chicago’s Alex wears the number 71. Overall, Kansas City’s Aurelien Collin wears uniform number 78.

Tony Edwards is a soccer writer from the Bay Area.

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One Response to Questions: Defending Set Pieces in Major League Soccer

  1. Colin says:

    Marvin Chavez wears #81