Author\’s Note: This post is one in series of posts that breaks down the 2010 Soccer MVP Tournament competition. Be sure to look at the final results to review how \’Inside\’ was crowned champion.
I believe that receiving, or controlling the ball, is the most important skill in soccer, bar none.
Every player possession starts with a ball either thrown or kicked to a player who then needs to control it in some fashion. Of the four feet surfaces that made the final round of this competition–inside, top (laces), outside, and bottom–\’Inside\’ not only won the receiving discipline but it was capable of controlling 90% of all balls passed to a player.
In baseball, the goal is to catch the baseball in the mitt. In football, the goal is to catch the football with the hands. Once these catches are completed, the player will either throw to first base or turn and run up field, respectively. In both cases, a successful catch does not really dictate a player\’s next move.
Soccer is different. In soccer, how the ball is received always dictates a player\’s next move. Since soccer is such a fluid sport with players constantly moving, it is preferable for a ball not to be received and come to rest in the same spot. Rather, the ideal method is for the first-touch (the first touch a player makes on the ball) to push or direct the ball away from the player receiving the ball. Where the ball is pushed or directed and how far away from the player the ball rolls depends solely on the first-touch skill of that player.
To test \’Control\’, various targets were placed in front of a player (black ovals in the image to the right). Then rolling passes were kicked at a player as well as to either side of a player at various speeds. The goal was to first-touch the passes as close to the intended targets as possible. Because of the structure of the inside-of-the-foot and the ability to cushion the passes, \’Inside\’ was the overwhelming winner. \’Inside\’ consistently settled the ball in each of the targets regardless of the speed of the pass or which foot received the ball. \’Laces\’ and \’Bottom\’ fared well when the target was under the feet but did poorly with the outer fringe targets. \’Outside\’ had better luck with the outer targets but was only able to push the ball in one direction.
- In the image, the four surfaces are represented by various colored lines: green (Inside), yellow (Laces), purple (Outside), and light blue (Bottom). The geometric shapes on the vertical plane represent the areas-of-coverage that each foot surface can comfortably control when a rolling or bouncing ball was passed to a player. \’Inside\’ was clearly able to control more passes, especially passes that were thigh-high and away from the player. The other surfaces did OK when the ball was passed directly to a player.
- The dark blue oval on the horizontal plane represents the area on the ground that was controlled by a player when the ball was passed high in the air. Remarkably, \’Inside\’ was able to control all of these high balls, even ones that were passes over a player\’s head. \’Inside\’ achieved this control by applying a trapping technique whereby a player let the ball first hit the ground and then immediately covered (or trapped) it with the inside-of-the-foot. \’Laces\’ and \’Outside\’ were able to control the same high-ball passes as \’Inside\’. Both \’Inside\’ and \’Outside\’ were able to push the trapped ball away from where the ball landed. \’Laces\’ could only settle the ball in the same location that the ball was first controlled. \’Bottom\’ had a difficult time controlling these passes with any degree of success.
- The red rectangle on the vertical plane represents the area that could not be controlled with the feet. These passes could only be received with the chest or head.
As you can see, \’Inside\’ is quite accomplished when it comes to receiving the soccer ball and easily won this discipline. Given the level of proficiency and the importance of receiving the ball under control, players and coaches should continuously work on and develop a strong \’Inside\’.