Archive | March, 2012

What’s a Good Size 4 Ball?

31 Mar

One of the aspects I like about soccer is that is a very gear-limited game.

A ball and a space to play is all that is needed to play. As you advance, a pair of shoes becomes more important – but it’s still about the player and not the gear.

At our club and in our state association, U8 age group and below use a Size 3 ball. In U10 and U12, the Size 4 is used.

As Aidan will move to the Four with certainty for the fall season, and Evan will move to the Four if or when he starts our club’s Pre-Academy program, I’m in the market for two quality Size 4 balls.

In just a few years of play, we have had several balls pass through our house already. There’s a lot of variety of play in balls under $20. Some have slick covers that don’t have a good touch. some have a lot of neoprene or other padding under the top cover of the ball. Some have virtually none. Most noticeable when playing, some perform like a beach ball while some are feel more like a rock.

With both of the kids dedicating more time to playing, I want to stay on the right foot with a ball that plays as “true” as possible.

The options I’m considering:

Select Numero 10 ($24.99): I’ve seen a few Select balls around at our practices and pickup games I’ve attended. You can’t find them at the Big Box Sporting Goods Stores and you don’t see them on the professional pitch (except in Denmark and some parts of Latin America). But the balls I’ve used have a nice solid feel to them and the right weight.  Of course, they have a number of different balls all under the “Numero 10” banner – at different price points.  Are they materially different?

Select Royale ($39.99): This is Select’s first “Step up” ball from the Number 10.  Looks like it has a lot of the same characteristics of the Number 10.

Nike Premier Ball ($39.99): This is Nike’s upgrade ball versus the $16-20 ball you see in Sports Speciality retailers. I’ve seen the size 5 version of this class of ball with some high school teams.

Nike Club Team Ball ($29.99): One step down from the Premier.  Looks like it has normal panel shapes instead of the rounded ones on the Premier.

Adidas FIFA 2012 NFHS Club Ball: I don’t know anything about this ball, but it seems to be based on their

What are your favorite balls for practice and match use in size 4? What characteristics do you look for when buying a ball?

Product Review: Nike Rio II Soccer Jersey

30 Mar

I’ve worn moisture management fabric shirts while exercising for more than ten years.  Before that – it was the cotton tee shirt.  But once I discovered moisture management fabrics, I became a fan of Nike’s Dri-Fit and Russell’s DriPower clothing.

However, I’ve noticed prices have gone up as these items have become more popular – but the shirts haven’t been adding any additional features or becoming significantly better performers as far as I could tell.

Through several retailers, I became aware of Nike’s Rio II Soccer Jersey (and many other styles of shirt as well.)  Without a club badge and number, the Rio shirt looks like any other exercise apparel – available in four youth and five adult sizes and ten different colors.  But it’s added functional feature: it has a back made completely of mesh for airflow.  The white front insert panel is made of the same type of mesh.  The back is very effective at keeping you cool while exercising.

The fit on the shirt is great if you fall into the athletic cut.  I have a problem buying most athletic retail styles – they either are too short through the body or too large through the chest, shoulders, sleeves and torso (this applies to a lot of other clothing as well.)  In the case of the Rio, I can comfortably wear a size Small and it provides plenty of length but a fitted appearance.

There’s also a long sleeve version with the same construction.

I recommend the shirt if you are in the size range that retail styles don’t fit well, and if you are looking for added features in your sports apparel.

The English Premier League Clubs are Coming: Should you go?

28 Mar

This summer, a wealth of English Premier Clubs will visit the United States and stage friendlies against each other, as well as against selected Major League Soccer, Mexican, and South American clubs.  These matches will be staged in cities across the United States and in front of big crowds.

It’s an attractive proposition.  Most American sports fans know that the best players in the world play in countries outside of the United States.  Clubs with famous names like Liverpool, Manchester United and Chelsea carry great weight in the soccer world and even extend to casual fans and some non-fans.

So are these exhibition matches worth your sporting dollar?

I don’t think so.

I’ll have an opportunity to see one of these matches this summer, as my travels will take me to the Pacific Northwest at the same time that Chelsea FC visits Seattle.  While the Sounders will open up the upper deck of their stadium for the game, and sell many tickets, past history of these matches have shown that they feature less than great competition.

The Sounders hosted reigning Premier League champions Manchester United in July 2011 and was defeated in 7-0.

Barcelona’s substitutes in their highly anticipated Washington, DC match against Manchester United in 2011 included several members of their “B” team that plays in Spain’s Second Division.

Generally speaking, the games have shown a reduced pace that would be expected from athletes playing in a pre-season, exhibition match.

We’ll be spending our soccer-viewing money on better options in the Pacific Northwest with a visit instead to the Portland Timbers’ home grounds.  We will also see our hometown Atlanta Silverbacks (North American Soccer League) play several times this spring and summer.

While the quality of play and quality of athlete in MLS and the NASL is certainly lower than what a European club can bring, the viewing experience in both of these instances promises to be far more intimate and will likely feature athletes playing at full speed – attempting to win matches, advance league position or advance their own careers.

Cultivating Love of the Game

27 Mar

It’s amazing the speed at which enjoyment of the sport can turn into a love of the game.

Evan started playing team soccer about nineteen months ago.  At that point, I didn’t know if he would enjoy it.  He enjoyed playing it in U5 and became successful quickly.

But in the past seven months he’s gone from enjoying playing the sport to having a passion for everything about soccer – the culture, the gear, playing the game on Wii and watching the matches on Television.  This morning when the television came on during breakfast he watched several minutes of Fox Soccer’s highlight show.

His favorite player: FC Barcelona’s Lionel Messi.  I think that comes from his shared uniform number (10), Messi’s domination on the FIFA 12 game, and probably an allegiance to a similarly sized player to him.

It’s fascinating to watch the games with him, but I would love to see it through his eyes.  I’m hoping in the next few days he can express what he sees and what it’s like for him to play and experience soccer.

Two Days, Four Matches

26 Mar

This weekend was our make-up date from our rained out matches from the first week of March.  It also happened to fall on the last weekend of practice and play we would have before our school system, and our club go on Spring break.

I held an evening of pick-up soccer on Thursday evening, working against the assumption that we would be unable to practice Friday night due to storms expected to pass through metro Atlanta on Friday.  While some parts of the metro area had the weather, it stayed South of our practice and game fields.  Thus for the four players from the U8 team who came out Thursday night, we had four straight days of play.  It showed for three of them in a very good way.

Thursday Pick-Up

We had four players from the U8 team, plus Evan and another U6 player for pick up on Thursday night.   I joined the group and we played 4v3 – initially in a straightforward style and later with a “Real Madrid” game that I had seen online where the goals are placed in the center of the playing area, back to back.  The idea is to force the players to work on switching the point of attack and taking up a better shape to move the ball.  I’m not sure they entirely did that, but I saw progression in several of the players in taking up a better shape to support the ball carrier.

Friday Practices

Evan was ill Friday afternoon and missed Friday’s practice.  His team worked on dribbling – specifically inside and outside turns in the technical training.  We worked on 1v1 play again in our part of the practice and then played 3v2.  Instead of running the game with kick-offs or any restarts, I blew the whistle after each goal (or out of play ball) and played in a new ball to keep the players moving.  A lot of goals, but also progression from some players on defending 1v1.

The U8 team worked on dribbling as well in their technical session – with the same turns, as well as pullbacks and a simple reverse.  With the U8’s, it frustrates me to see some of the better players (on match day) loafing through the technical training instead of trying to do things faster and sharper.

Our part of the session was spent playing as much 4v3 as we could.  I stopped the group several times to work on some shape and strategy on restarts.  During matches, I’ve seen too many instances of players putting a throw-in into a crowd of the other team (even though there was no one on our team in the group) or into a crowd of both teams because they happened to be in the direction of the goal.  In many instances, there is a teammate straight in front of them not being marked at all and a wealth of open space.

I modified the rules in the second part of practice for both teams to use me as a wall pass or neutral player.  It was a great innovation and some of the players really did well with the idea and took advantage of it when they got in trouble.  I had the full run of one sideline.  Players looked up, found me, made a pass and then made a run to open space.

Our end of practice review had the phrase “open space” repeated multiple times – I was hopeful it would sink in.

U6 Matches

Evan missed his U6 match on Saturday morning.  This gave his five teammates some extra time to play but also seemed to motivate the team to try harder.  In fact, everyone on the team scored at least one goal.  That’s probably the best match a U6 coach can ask for – everyone on the team to score!  It makes it easy for everyone to go away happy.

There were players heading in opposite directions through the weekend.  One of my players who’s stayed with us through U5 and U6 really excelled this weekend.  He did a great job with dribbling and control and seemed really dialed in to where play was going. One of my players from the Fall has gotten noticeably more timid since the Fall.  I’m hoping more playing time will bring him back out of his shell – but it seems like he’s afraid to touch the ball more than briefly or dribble the ball.

Our Sunday match was different.  While Evan was back, he was noticeably weaker on field from being sick and low on energy for two days.  But there were several times when the ball was between two of our players and neither seemed to want to touch the ball.

I’m not sure what to do next in practice – but it might be a full night of dribbling and dropping a scrimmage or small-sided game.  My U5’s last spring just seemed to be in a different point than the U6’s this spring.

U8 Matches

Our Saturday match for the U8 team was our side’s first win this Fall.  We took a 7-5 victory against a similarly skilled team.  I don’t think it was close to our best overall performance though (which was week 1) although we had a pair of outstanding quarters.

Our first half was well played.  I was most impressed by how the ball was distributed from the back forward.  One of our returning players from the Fall anchored our defense.  I’ve been working on him from the fall, and through this spring to stop kicking the ball deep on first touch.  And Saturday he followed through with it!  He made good decisions with the ball to teammates on the wings of the field and we were able to consistently attack the goal in the first quarter.  At the same time, our front line moved back with the ball and helped make plays on defense.

That fell down later in the game as we had several instances of players not helping out enough on defense and the opponent getting enough time and space to take repeated shots on goal. I also encouraged them to try to hold the ball up longer in the fourth quarter but they still played the same tempo of attack as earlier in the game.

Our offense also came from one player’s foot (entirely!) so it was disappointing to see the other players on the team not participating in the offense.

Our Sunday match was a better effort from the full team.  We were one player short of full, so everyone picked up at least three quarters of our 48 minute match.  We conceded two early goals on the same mistakes that allowed five goals Saturday – players not falling back on defense and playing throw-ins too tight to the line.  There was more than one instance where the opponent put a throw-in over the heads of our entire team to an open man on the other team, and one time it was right in front of our goal.  Maybe the team will start noticing.

Our performance on our throw-ins was better today – more often getting the ball to that open man, even if it was the defender.  When the defender received it, he had time and space to have a good first touch and then make a good decision about how to handle the ball.

The fourth quarter was our best quarter of the match.  We had a similar team in place to our first quarter from the prior day – and they worked in the same smart manner.  We missed on several shots, including one over the crossbar at the final whistle and wen home with a 2-1 loss.

It’s been a great season so far – we’ve been competitive in every match so far.

And the Bonuses

With two matches each day, and downtime in between- Aidan and I stayed at our club’s fields and just spent time watching other teams play and playing together.  This varied between working on volleys, goalkeeping, jockeying for the ball and passing – but it was time well spent.  He expressed interest Sunday in playing Academy in the fall – which I had talked to him before but received a measured, cool response about participation.  I think he’s seeing friends moving in that direction and is feeling it’s the way to go.  I also think playing four days in a row has helped build his interests in playing more often.

I also managed to get twenty-five minutes of time kicking the ball around with my new team in Sunday before the kids’ matches.  I’m really looking forward to our season starting in a few weeks.

First Impressions: Adidas adiPure 11Pro

19 Mar

My first pair of new boots in fifteen months is the Adidas adiPure 11Pro (firm ground).

While the adiPure line is a veteran line up for Adias, the 11Pro is the newest update to the line and is a transition as far as the visual of the boot. While it maintains a “Traditional” or “Heritage” look like Nike’s Tiempo and past offerings in the adiPure line, it also takes on some of the technology of other recent releases.

Most notably to many boot-freaks and runners – an improvement in weight of the shoe by 1.6 ounces versus prior releases. The adiPure 11Pro weighs in at 8.2 ounces. My last pair of shoes, Nike’s Total 90 III (Leather) weighed in at 10.2 ounces. This is starting to approach the weight of my running shoes like the Brooks Pure Connect and the Brooks Green Silence (7.2 ounces for both shoes). Considering I found the transition to an 8 ounce running shoe (Nike’s Free Run+) to be revolutionary for me (in part due to weight) this shoe should be a big difference on the pitch.

The upper is still a full grain leather – in this case, Adidas has selected Taurus leather instead of the adiPure’s traditional Kangaroo leather. There’s been discussion among reviewers that this is a de-contenting of the shoe – but I’ve never worn Kangaroo so I don’t anticipate missing anything.

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Spring Match Week 2 Recap

19 Mar

Our Friday night practices and Saturday matches were threatened by weather again this week.  We were able to have our full U6 practice but were cleared from the fields about five minutes into the U8 practice due to lightning in the vicinity.  Practice never resumed.

As the morning approached, a line of showers moved across our side of Atlanta.  I think most of the parents believed the matches for Saturday would be canceled in the interest of field preservation – but the weather started clearing by 11 AM and the sun came out in full.

By the time of our first match, it was in the seventies and approaching eighty by the start of the U8 match just before 1 PM.

U6 Match

Our side was again at full strength with all six boys available for the match.  Our team’s new member played his first full game and performed better in the game than he has in practice.

There’s a significant difference in a lot of the kids between how they perform at practice and in the game – and for the better.  Part of it is probably time of day and week – our practices being on Friday night after a full week of school versus Saturday morning when the kids are full of energy.  The games are also more structured and kids get more feedback about how they are performing.

Evan had more of a challenge in this week’s match.  There were a pair of boys on the opposite side of the ball who played aggressively and skillfully, and Evan faced off with them.

We need to revisit the skills from the skills training in the Fall in our front yard this week and bring them back into play.

U8 Match

We were one player short this week due to Boy Scout commitments.  This meant two of our players would play the full 48 minutes of the match and everyone else would play 36 minutes.  With the warm temperatures, I knew that these two players would probably be drained at the end of play – so they played one quarter in the goal and three quarters on the field.

During the first quarter, we had trouble getting the ball forward and maintaining possession in the front half.  True to form, our center defender (one of our stronger players) was afraid to venture out of the defensive half several times when there was clear field in front of him.  It’s a difficult teaching point regarding positional play – encouraging a player to go forward with the ball and abandon his position temporarily.  Even the three players responsible for playing offense sometimes randomly dished off the ball instead of dribbling deep.

The team continues to play fairly well on defense.  We gave up one goal in the first quarter but mostly kept the other side from taking shots.  Aidan pulled it back to even in the second quarter, dribbling by a defender and taking a shot from the right side of the goal.  It was 1-1 at the half.

In the third quarter, we allowed the other team more time and space with the ball, and it resulted in three more goals.  The boys scored one more goal in the fourth quarter, ending with a 4-2  loss.  Despite the score, we had a lot of shots on goal in the second half that could have picked up several more goals with the right luck.

So our training this week needs to continue to focus on maintaining possession of the ball and creating positive passing (or keeping a dribbling) versus playing the ball forward.

It also needs to apply to our throw-ins as too often there is no movement for the field players, and the player throwing in just tosses it to the crowd.  The receiving player has no room to dribble or turn, and usually loses the ball out of bounds.  One of my ideas pre-season was stressing playing the ball the direction they were facing – instead of trying to immediately turn if there’s no open space.

The season still feels really positive – we have been competitive every week of the season so far.