Soccer – The Most Important of Life’s Unimportant Things

July 6, 2003

Bunker Hill and the Siege of Stalingrad

by @ 3:53 am.
Filed under Miscellany

For the life of me, I will never ever understand why a team would get a one goal lead and then immediately fall back into a defensive shell and spend the rest of the game protecting the lead.

Why? Why would one do that? What purpose does this serve, if not that of giving away a perfectly good lead? If I was given to cliche, at this point I would invoke the old favorite: “Ya gotta dance with the one that brung ya.” Fortunately for all involved, I am categorically not given to employing cliche, so I will elaborate further.

If you had the offensive skill to actually score a goal, why not go with that flow and try to actually try to score, stay with me here, another goal. You did it once, you can do it again. If the other team scores, oh well, go get another goal. It won’t always work out that way, but it will work out more often than keeping 11 guys on your side of the field. And when it doesn’t work, it sure will be fun trying, and, just as important, fun to watch. It will be fun for all involved, except maybe the coach. But he’s paid to be constantly unhappy anyway, so what they heck?

As a wise man (I believe it was Mel, the cook on “Alice”) once opined: “The best defense is a good offense.”

But I digress. Here is a brief list of things that are wrong with the “Bunker” theory of football:

1. It rarely works.

2. If it does work, it causes no end of stress, both physical and psychological, for the supporters.

3. Either way, it is UN-ENTERTAINING!

4. It encourages pinheaded sports pundits who insist that soccer is boring.

5. Most importantly, the whole idea is just plain wrong on principle. It’s just plain wrongheaded. Soccer is about attacking, creating, scoring and entertaining. Anyone who advocates such a style of play is the Anti-Pele.

Granted, there are times when you have to bunker in, as when the other team throws everything plus the kitchen sink at you, tactically speaking. But in that case, bunkering in is merely a temporary necessity, a defensive contingency. That’s ok. It’s when sitting on the lead and re-enacting the Siege of Leningrad becomes a philosophy of football that I begin to have a problem with it.

Further, if you find yourself with a team that has no ability to attack effectively, but you have one or two really fast players who were born to counterattack, then such a strategy may be your only real option (see: U.S. National Team, the Bora Years). Fine. But most of the games I see this happening in are between clubs that could very well play attractive, attacking soccer, but choose not to.

I’ve been pondering for years what kind of soccer will eventuall be known as the “American Style”. I think it will end up being characterized by fast, flashy, attacking soccer, a solid midfield general who can distribute effectively, minimal defensive solidity, and spectacular goalkeeping. I wouldn’t mind that at all. But I really don’t want to the American game to be known for 89 minutes of defense interrupted by the occasional goal. I really don’t.

Not that scoring is the sine qua non of a good soccer match. As long as both teams are trying to attack, and shots are taken, only to be denied by good goalkeeping and an occasional ringer off the woodwork, a 0-0 match can be one of the most exciting things in sports (see: Mexico v USA, World Cup qualifying, November 2, 1997).

But having said all that, my original thesis stands: bunkering in as a way of life is boring and has no place in the game.

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