MASTERS OF MODERN SOCCER

The modern game has more choreography than you might expect, and not just from set pieces, as we learn from the systematic patterns in the run of play used by Chicharito and the Mexican national team. And while there is less interchange- ability of positions today than there was in the 1970s heyday of Total Football, the increasing specialization of positions in mod-ern soccer requires a bigger skill set than it did in the past. It’s not enough for a goalkeeper just to stop shots anymore; he also has to distribute the ball and cover the area outside the penalty box behind his high back line. It’s not enough for a centerback to lock down the opposing striker; he also has to be a key figure starting the attack. It’s not enough for a central midfielder to ping passes around; he has to be in the perfect position—not even two yards askance—or his team will be punished in a heartbeat on the counter. And it’s not enough for a forward just to score goals anymore; he has to be the first harassing line of defense.

The specialization of the modern game extends to management as well. As I’ll argue in the pages ahead, having a head coach to prepare the first team and a separate director of football to focus on long-term strategy and player acquisitions is a smart solution for the demands of the sport in the 21st century. Asking a traditional English-style manager to be responsible for all those tasks is asking for dysfunction.

The U.S. men’s national team’s failure to qualify for World Cup 2018 is a major setback, yet I hope it forces Americans to ask how this country can produce more incandescent talents like Pulisic. He is already America’s best player as a teenager, and he holds his own with the veterans in this book when it comes to providing insight on how he views his position on the field.

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