For Parents


With the FIFA Women’s U20 World Cup (hosted here in Canada) less than 1 week away, many here in Canada are becoming interested in ‘player development’  – that is, what exactly is the best pathway for talented young Canadian girls (and boys) to reach the highest levels of the game?

Here is an interesting article written by Jason De Vos, former Canadian National team player and Oakville Soccer Club Technical Director, and present CBC soccer analyst.

Let me know your thoughts about this topic. Drop me a line here to get the conversation started.


3 Reasons Why You Should Train to Improve Recovery, Not Speed

In my career, I have spent a lot of time and done a lot of research trying to determine the optimal energy system training variables for soccer players.  Soccer is a sport that involves intermittent high/maximal intensity runs, with varied amount of recovery between each run.  While the performance of the high intensity running is anaerobic (it relies on muscular strength and power), the recovery between the running is aerobically driven (it relies on an efficient heart, lungs and muscular system, to replenish the energy used during each high speed run).  Of course, in a professional environment, training must be planned and periodized, so an athlete will never do the same workout over an extended period of time, however, some types of energy system training are more important in soccer, and thus need more time devoted to them. 

It has been my experience that the best way to actually improve players’ performance on the field (that is, the total amount, and average maximal speed, of the high intensity running they can do) is to give a priority to training that improves recovery (the aerobic component).  Below are the 3 reasons why I believe recovery training is the best type of training for soccer.

  1. Recovery is more important than speed.  Because a soccer game is 90 minutes in duration, and elite level players must perform 25-50 sprints, plus an additional 200-300 high intensity runs over the course of a game, recovery (the aerobic component) must be given more importance than speed and power (the anaerobic component).  The reason is that, if players have good speed but poor recovery, they may perform well in the beginning of a match, but their lack of recovery will hinder them as the match progresses and total amount of high intensity running increases.  Eventually, a player with poor recovery must be substituted if they are not able to keep up with the high intensity running demands of the game.   Over time, soccer players will develop a more efficient aerobic system, and be able to recover better in between the high intensity runs they do in games.
  2. Recovery is more “trainable” than speed.  Trust me.  In my facility, the Soccer Fitness Training Centre, we have spent years developing and perfecting the best ways to improve running speed (using state-of-the-art high speed, high incline running treadmills), and I have even done – and continue to do – my own research testing my training methods to see which ones work best.  Even with all of our advanced equipment, programming, and research, we will be lucky if we can improve a player’s running speed by more than 0.10 seconds over a distance of 35 metres (equivalent to an improvement of 1-2% for most high level soccer players).  In contrast, it is not uncommon for us to see improvements in players’ recovery and total high intensity running ability (as measured by the gold standard “Yo-Yo” tests) of up to 30% in total distance covered, over the course of an 8-10 week training program.  Simply put, it is easier to make improvements in recovery with proper training than it is to make improvements in speed with proper training.    
  3. With better recovery, players’ average speed of high intensity running increases.  At the end of the day, faster soccer players are always going to be faster than slower soccer players, regardless of how much speed training the slower players do.  The key for all soccer players is to try to maximize the average speed of the high intensity running they do in a game.  The higher the average running speed, the better their overall performance will be.  If players train to improve their recovery, they will offset fatigue, and still be able to run close to their maximal running speed (whatever it is) in the later stages of a match.  Over time, slower players who do the right amount of recovery training can improve their average match running speed to the point that they are able to keep up with, and often over-take, faster players who do not have good recovery.

I am not advocating that soccer players ignore speed and power training (on the contrary, a small but significant portion of the training time at the Soccer Fitness Training Centre is always devoted to plyometric and speed training).  I am simply stating that the primary focus of energy system training for soccer players must be aerobic training, and it should be specifically designed to improve players’ recovery between high intensity running, which is the most important physical ability an elite level soccer player can have.

I’d love to hear your thoughts about this topic.  Drop me a line here to get the conversation started.



College Soccer Looks To Full-Year Schedule To Bolster Its Relevance

Below is a link to a great article written by The Soccer Observer.  It discusses a proposed change from a ‘part-time; (Fall only) season, to a ‘full-time’ (Fall/Spring) season in college soccer, including the rationale for the change, and proposed benefits.  I’ve been involved in university soccer here in Canada for the past 15 years as a player, coach and fitness coach, and I think several of the issues discussed here are relevant to Canadian university and college soccer as well.  Let me know your thoughts – drop me a line here to get the conversation started. 

College Soccer Looks To Full-Year Schedule To Bolster Its Relevance


Has Soccer Gotten “Faster”?

With the 2014 FIFA World Cup over, now is the time to begin analysis of the tournament.  As a sport scientist, I am inclined to try to look at the games to see if there were any new or unique events or trends than can affect the way players must be prepared physically.  While some areas of the technical/physical side of the game may be debated (for example, is it better to play like Germany, with lots of ball possession, and a high pressing defense, or like Argentina, defending deep and relying on quick and efficient counter-attacks?), one aspect that has remained very consistent at this World Cup, as well as in the game in general over the past 5-10 years, is that the game seems to be getting “faster”.  

Considering how much of my time I have devoted to speed training for athletes (mostly using my preferred method of high speed/high incline treadmill training) this is a very interesting trend.  Of course, simply commenting that the game looks “faster” based on visual assessment is not good enough to stand up to scientific scrutiny.  I needed more information, so I decided to look through my notes from the recent 4th World Conference on Science and Soccer that I attended and presented at, which was held in Portland, OR, on June 5th-7th of this year.  One of the keynote speakers at the Conference, Paul Bradley, who has worked extensively with several different Premier League clubs over the past decade, gave a presentation titled “The Evolution of Physical and Technical Performance Parameters in the English Premier League”.  Of course, he did not present data from the World Cup, but because the English Premier League is one of the best professional leagues in the world, and because some of the best players at the World Cup (including Argentina’s Sergio Aguero, Holland’s Robin Van Persie, and World Cup Champion Germany’s Mesut Ozil) play in the league, data taken from it can be seen as valid in explaining trends both from the World Cup tournament, as well as the sport of soccer as a whole. 

The rationale behind Mr. Bradley’s presentation was that, although there certainly is a commonly held belief that soccer is becoming “faster”, there is presently a lack of evidence to support this belief.  He presented a longitudinal summary of a series of studies done in the Premier League, conducted using Pro-Zone software over the last 7 years, that examined a number of different factors influencing physical and technical performance of players and teams, and organized the findings according to players’ positions, league table differences, and compared UK vs. non-UK based players.  Here is a summary of some of the data:

  • while there has been no change in the average total distance covered over the past 7 years (10.7km per match in 2007 to 10.9km per match in 2013), there have been significant increases in both the amount of high intensity running (fast running) as well as the number of sprints performed per match
  • of the total number of sprints done per match, the average distance per sprint was shorter, but the total number of sprints was higher, and also the average speed of the sprints was significantly higher
  • technically, Premier League players completed more passes per match (25.3 to 35.4 per match) from 2007 to 2013
  • players’ pass success rate (measured by looking at total number of successful passes divided by total number of attempted passes) has also increased
  • by 2013, only 9% of English Premier League players completed less than 70% of their passes per match (as compared to 26% in 2007)

Overall, Mr. Bradley’s presentation definitely supports the idea that the sport of soccer has become faster, as both the physical and technical demands of the game have steadily increased over the past 7 years.  The challenge now lies with coaches and fitness coaches, to develop newer and more efficient ways to train their players in order for them to meet and exceed these increased demands.

I’d love to hear your thoughts about this topic.  Drop me a line here to get the conversation started.


Workout # 3 – Fitting In



It’s a little late, but Thursday this week I squeezed in a quick workout after work.  While this may not seem like much, for me, it was the first time in over a year I’ve done a workout on a week night.   This is a start, a good start.  Tomorrow, Workout # 4 and a chance to see if I’ve made any improvements so far …


Time to Give the Referees a Break

The FIFA World Cup is the world’s biggest and most popular sports competition. Held only every four years, the tournament is a showcase for all the world’s best and most talented players, and the knock-out format ensures lots of excitement and drama. This year’s World Cup, held in Brazil from June 12th – July 14th, was no exception. Unfortunately, some of the drama has occurred as a direct result of controversy surrounding calls made (or not made) by referees at the World Cup. This year, refereeing decisions seem to have been a bit of a ‘hot-button’ issue with fans and the media, partly because of our endless access to picture and video replays of incidents, and partly because of the number of controversial calls made in the tournament.

Referees at the World Cup – and in soccer in general – have a very challenging job. Physically, they are being placed under enormous stress, and are still expected to perform almost flawlessly if they are to avoid criticism. I attended a match at this year’s World Cup (Match #58, the quarter final between France and Germany) and after taking an up-close look at the referee at this game, I can attest to just how difficult the job really is. This article will examine some of the difficulties of refereeing soccer at the highest level, and suggest some possible alternatives that could be incorporated in the future.

Physical Demands of Refereeing in Soccer:
Several studies using time motion analysis on top level referees, including some recent ones done in Denmark by Bangsbo et. Al (2001) and in Brazil by Da Silva et. Al. (2008) have determined that the amount of running, done by top level referees, as well as their running speed, is not very different from the amount and speed of running done by outfield players. Bangsbo’s studies for example, found that referees from Denmark’s first division covered an average distance of 10.07 kilometres per match, of which 1.97 kilometres was of a high intensity (fast running or sprinting). Similarly, Da Silva’s studies found that top level Brazilian referees covered an average of 9.5 kilometres in a match, and that their high intensity running was 1.80 kilometres per match. These numbers are slightly lower than the average amounts of running and high intensity running done by outfield players in top level leagues, but not by much. A number of studies done using time motion analysis of outfield players in various top level leagues including England, Italy, and Spain, have found that players run, on average, a minimum of 9 and maximum of 15 kilometres per game, and the amount of high intensity running can vary from 1-4 kilometres (depending on playing position, and several other in-game factors). Thus an argument can be made that the physical demands of top-level soccer refereeing are similar, yet slightly less, than those of top level outfield players. During the quarter-final in Rio De Janeiro that I attended, I observed the referee make several dozen fast runs/sprints to keep up with the ball and play as it moved, so I would definitely agree that from my own personal experience, referees do a lot of high intensity running.

The Problem with the Physical Demands of Refereeing:
Unfortunately for referees, their advanced age puts them at a significant disadvantage with regards to the ability to perform high intensity running. In the two studies mentioned, the average age of top-level referees was 42 (Denmark) and 39 (Brazil). This means that on average, referees are 10-20 years older than the average outfield player. Most players do not continue to play into their 30’s, and almost no outfield player continues to play until the age of 42, yet somehow top level referees are expected to cover almost as much distance, and to do almost as much high intensity running, at this advanced age. Compounding the problem for referees is that they are expected to be literally perfect (to always make the correct decision on the pitch), regardless of how much running they have done. There is a very clear relationship between amount of running done in a match and fatigue, and consequently, a very strong relationship between fatigue and mistakes made in soccer (as well as in other sports). Thus referees are not only expected to be perfect, they are somehow expected to be perfect while performing under extreme fatigue. It is difficult to impossible to imagine a team of outfield players in their early 40’s, competing against and running almost as much as top level players 10-20 years younger, and playing for 90 minutes without making a single mistake, yet that is exactly what most fans and the media expect from top level referees.

Soccer is the only major sport that puts this much pressure on its officials. In contrast, think for a moment about Canada’s most popular professional sport, ice hockey. The playing area is about one 3rd the size of a soccer field, yet in NHL hockey there are a total of six officials; two on-ice officials, two linesman (responsible for calling ‘off-side’), and two goal judges (responsible for determining whether or not the puck has crossed the goal-line). Furthermore, in hockey the action is much more intermittent than in soccer, so that while the two on-ice referees do have to perform a significant amount of skating, they are given frequent breaks from play in which they can recover. An analysis of the other popular North American sports (football, basketball, and baseball) shows that these sports also have more on-field officials than soccer, and these officials do significantly less running and physical work (in the case of baseball, almost no physical work) than do soccer referees.

The Possible Solution(s):
In my opinion, the governing bodies in soccer (namely FIFA and UEFA) should try to tackle the refereeing problem from two angles:

  1. Add video replay to assist in decision-making by allowing each coach to challenge 1 on-field call per half (4 challenges in total per game). This is already done in American football, and in soccer I believe that giving a tired referee the ability to watch one or two quick replays of a specific incident before possibly changing his or her mind on the call would be simple, easy and most importantly quick to do. It should not take an experienced referee more than about 30-60 seconds of watching a video replay to either stand by, or reverse, their decision.
  2. Add a second referee on the field of play, and assign each referee to only one half of the field. This change would significantly decrease the total amount of running done by referees, and therefore also significantly decrease referee fatigue. Since fatigue plays such an important role in ability to perform both physically and mentally, adding a second referee should also significantly decrease the amount of mistakes referees make in each game.

At the end of the day, soccer fans and media will always be critical of referees and their decisions. In some ways this criticism also adds to the spectacle and overall interest of the sport as a whole. In my opinion, however, the physical burden placed on top level referees makes meeting fans’ and the media’s expectations impossible to achieve. FIFA has already taken a huge step in the right direction by introducing goal line technology at the World Cup for the first time this year. Hopefully they will also consider making the changes recommended above to help improve the quality of the beautiful game, and give all referees a needed break.

I’d love to hear your thoughts about this topic.  Drop me a line here to get the conversation started.


Congratulations to Germany – Why the Best Team Won

The World Cup is over. Germany have won their 4th World Cup title, beating Argentina via a 115th-minute goal from substitute Mario Goetze, 1-0. For me this has been one of the most exciting World Cups I can remember. It has featured lots of goals (140 in total, equal to the highest number ever at a World Cup tournament, a record which was originally set in France in 1998) impressive highlights, and even some surprising upsets. In the end, the Final match provided a thoroughly entertaining game, which seemed as though it could have gone either way until Goetze’s brilliant effort 5 minutes from the end of extra time.

This year the best team has won the World Cup. Before you read my explanation as to why I believe this fact to be true, please put aside any potential biases you may have towards your favorite national team and/or player(s), as well as any opinion you may have about whether any of the games were “fixed”. My explanation will focus only on statistical analysis, which cannot be influenced by anything other than what the players do on the pitch, and because I do not personally support Germany or Argentina, you can consider my explanation and analysis to be as neutral as possible. Below is a summary of why Germany was the best team in this World Cup, and why they deserve to be crowned World Champions.

Several different studies done on soccer using match analysis data, including an in-depth analysis of the previous World Cup in South Africa in 2010, identified the following performance measures as being the best predictors of success in soccer games (listed in order from highest to lowest predictive value):

1. Shots on target
2. Total number of shots
3. Pass completion percentage
4. Percentage of ball possession
5. Number of total passes completed

Using these metrics on German team in the 2014 World Cup, it is not very difficult to see why they did so well in this year’s tournament. Germany had the 2nd-highest number of shots on target (at 71 only one shot behind Brazil’s 72); the 3rd most total number of shots (at 98 behind Brazil’s 111, and Argentina’s 105); the highest pass completion percentage (82%); the highest ball possession percentage (63%, with a high of 67.5% versus the U.S.A.); and the 2nd-highest pass completion percentage (at 82% tied with Spain and behind only Italy at 85%). Taken together these statistics paint a picture of German dominance at the 2014 World Cup. Today’s World Cup Final was not much different. In the game, Germany had 7 shots on target to Argentina’s 2; 10 total shots to equal Argentina’s 10; they completed 80% of their passes compared to Argentina’s 72%; held 60% of the ball possession to Argentina’s 40%, and completed 915 total passes to Argentina’s 568.

What makes Germany so uniquely dominant is that, unlike other possession-oriented teams like Spain and Italy, the Germans are able to keep a lot of the ball, while at the same time also out-shoot/out-score their opponents. Germany’s 18 goals scored at this World Cup (many of which were taken by world class strikers such as Thomas Muller, Miroslav Klose, and the aforementioned Goetze) stands far above all others in the tournament (their closest rival was Holland with 15) and is a testament to their efficiency at both creating, and finishing, their scoring chances. This unique ability, combined with a solid defense and the man voted by FIFA as the tournament’s best goalkeeper in Manuel Neuer, made the 2014 German team the best in the world this year, and arguably one of the best of all time. The only question now is, what is the rest of the world going to do to stop them?

I’d love to hear your thoughts about this topic. Drop me a line here to get the conversation started.


Workout # 2 – Yes You Can




It took 6 days, but I finished Workout # 2 of the Strength Program – Semi-Pro Level today.  I’m still on-track with 2 workouts per week, just barely.  Next week will be tough to get the two workouts done (I’ve got a tough week at work); however, that’s the test:  can you make time for what’s important?  As Barak Obama said … you know.


Workout # 1 – No Better Time than Today!



Like many of you reading our blog, soccer was (and is) a big part of my life.  However, over the years, I’ve transitioned from competitive varsity / semi-pro athlete to a beer-league hopeful to a couch-potato fan.

Well, no more.  I’ve decided to take up what I’m calling the “Soccer Fitness Gols Challenge” and get back into shape so that I can once again enjoy the Beautiful Game as it was meant to be played, not watched!

Yesterday, I completed Workout # 1 of the Soccer Fitness Gols app’s strength program (semi-pro level).  The workout was a challenge, but now I have a good baseline of where I’m at and a plan to get where I want to be.

Over the next 8 weeks, I’ll be posting my progress here …

July 5, 2014:

– Squat hold:  120.8 seconds

– Front plank hold: 121.7 seconds

– Push-ups in 60 seconds:  40

– Crunches in 60 seconds:  60

I’d like to encourage all of you, regardless of what’s holding you back, to take up the Challenge and get started with your own fitness “gols” today as well!  Please send us your comments about your own fitness Challenge, including your baseline, your “gols”, and your progress / results.


Soccer Fitness – Brazil Trip Day 7

Yesterday was my last night in Brazil! As I was a bit occupied at night, I decided to do the blog this morning instead. I spent the day at Copacabana beach, and watched the Argentina-Belgium game at one of the many bars. I played some soccer-volleyball with some friends I met at the bar, then got into another pick-up game, with people from literally all over the world. In the game were people from Australia, Israel, United States, Ghana, Argentina, Mexico, and of course Brazil. It occurred to me that this beach, during the World Cup, is probably the only place in the world where you can have an experience like that. Pretty amazing when you think about it..

I got an email from my good friend Anthony Totera, who has a radio show in Toronto called ‘Red Card’. They were doing a series of interviews with Canadian soccer people who are in Brazil, and he did a short interview with me. We discussed some of the fitness and health related issues surrounding the World Cup, including how to deal with the heat and also pre- and post-game nutrition strategies. Here is the link to the audio of the interview:

At the end of the day I decided to stay in and watch the Holland-Costa Rica game at my hotel. Below are my thoughts about the game:

It seems that there are a lot of people on social media sites criticising Costa Rica for playing too defensively and ‘playing for penalties’. In my opinion this type of criticism is not warranted. Soccer at the highest level is not about entertainment – it’s about winning. The Costa Rican coach came up with a plan that gave his team the best possible chance to win. It almost worked, as they got themselves into a penalty shoot-out and might have won it if not for the clutch saves made by Holland’s substitute goalkeeper Krul.

Costa Rica has been a revelation at this World Cup. They are a tiny nation from CONCACAF, a region which has never had a team other than Mexico or the United States get into the knock-out round of the tournament. The team is basically devoid of star players, and other that midfielder Ruiz and forward Campbell, the rest of the players play either in the MLS or in the domestic Costa Rican league. They have proven that a team without great individual talent can succeed at the highest level through a collective group effort put towards a common goal. It is very impressive to see how well they did against teams like Italy, Uruguay, England, and even Holland, all of whom are comprised of millionaire players who play in the biggest leagues and for the best club teams in the world. I found their performance at the World Cup to be very inspiring, and it gives me hope that one day Canada may be able to compete at that level too.

I’d love to hear your thoughts about this. Drop me a line here to get the conversation started.


Soccer Fitness – Brazil Trip Day 6

Today was a great day. I got to watch a game at the historical Maracana stadium, which has always been on my bucket list. Of course, in the 2nd game today, Brazil won 2-1 vs. Colombia, which means they are on to the Semi-Finals to face Germany. Brazil winning had a special impact on my stay ere in Rio, in that it gave me a great reason to stay out and party with all the Brazilians in Rio tonight!

Because of the partying, I think I will use the blog today for something fun. Below is a link to the an interesting article about the ‘arm folding poses’ that have been on TV for all the games in the World Cup thus far. The writers have determined who are the ‘World Cup Champions of Arm-Folding’.

Enjoy, and I will re-connect with you tomorrow evening!


Soccer Fitness – Brazil Trip Day 5

Today was the second straight day with no World Cup games to watch. I decided to fill the void with para-sailing. Several friends and colleagues who have been to Rio De Janeiro recommended this activity to me, so I figured I had to give it a try. There are a few draw-backs (it’s fairly expensive, there is a long wait until the wind is just right, and the cab ride home in traffic took almost 2 hours) but the view from up in the parachute was one of the most amazing things I have ever seen. It’s crazy how small you feel when you look down and can literally see the “end” of the earth where it curves out of your line of sight. Highly recommended to anyone in Rio now or ever planning on visiting.

Tomorrow is the day I have been waiting for all trip – I get to watch France vs. Germany in the World Cup Quarter Final! In my blog today, I will discuss how I think this game – the 4th edition of a classic World Cup match-up – will go. In the last few World Cups, the German team has followed a very similar pattern. They typically open the tournament with a high-scoring, dominant performance, only to become a bit more conservative (or efficient) as the tournament wears on. France, on the other hand, has been very inconsistent, winning in 1998 and reaching the final in 2006, sandwiching two group stage exits in 2002 and 2010. This year, I believe the game will be a battle between the popular possession-based “tika-taka” style that won Spain the 2010 World Cup (and the 2008/2012 Euro Cups), played by Germany, and the newer, counter-attacking style characterized by defending deeper and attacking on the break with speed and efficiency, played by France (and also by Holland, Colombia, and Costa Rica).

The French in this tournament have been the third best team in terms of “scoring efficiency”, with an average of 2.5 goals per game on only 54% ball possession.
Germany, on the other hand, has used a very high line when defending, trying hard to win the ball in the middle of the pitch and not allow their opponents to settle in the last 3rd. They have become a possession-oriented team, and thus far have had the best passing accuracy of any team in the tournament (attempting 3060 passes and converting 84% of them). This leaves them exposed to counter-attacking teams, as was evident in their tough Round of 16 match against a determined, well-organized Algerian team. Adding to the risk for the Germans is that their centre backs, Matts Hummels and Per Mertesacker, are both slow players who lack the speed to catch up with some of the faster strikers in the France team. The German defense was not really tested against Portugal, but Ghana was able to exploit their deficiencies and score 2 goals, and as mentioned Algeria were able to create chances on the break as well. France, with star attacking players possessing lots of pace such as Paul Pogba, and Mathieu Valbuena, should be able to provide the most stern test the Germans have faced in this tournament.

The advantage that Germany will have in trying to defend the counter-attack of the French is their goalkeeper, Manuel Neuer. More than any other keeper at the World Cup, Neuer has been active as a “sweeper”, stopping opposing counter-attacks before they turn into shots on target. In the game against Nigeria, Neuer accumulated 21 touches of the ball outside his box. To put this number into perspective, goalkeepers typically average less than 10 outside-the-box touches per game, and in this World Cup the average thus far has been only 8 per game. If France are to be successful, they will have to avoid the German off-side trap, and Neuer, so the best option for them will likely be to try to counter with diagonal passes, splitting the centre back and full back and keeping the ball closer to the corner and away from the German goalkeeper.

In my opinion, I believe Germany will keep enough of the ball to tire out the French, and limit the effectiveness of their countering. If I had to guess, I would say that Thomas Muller will re-gain his scoring touch, and the game will be decided by his fifth goal of the tournament. We will have to wait and see what happens tomorrow afternoon.

I’d love to hear your thoughts about this topic. Drop me a line here to get the conversation started.


Soccer Fitness – Brazil Trip Day 4

Today I hung out at Ipanema beach with my coaching friends from Toronto. It was a quiet day (mostly because there were no World Cup games on). Also got into another pick-up game on the beach, this time with some much more reasonable was a lot of fun. I have decided to go hang-gliding tomorrow (at the recommendation of several friends and family members who did it when they were in Rio).

Since there were no new games to comment on today, I will blog about the Argentina-Switzerand game from yesterday. It seems that a lot of people on the internet are commenting about how “lucky” Argentina are, because they have Messi and he can score (or create) late goals to win games for them. I have to say I find it a bit surprising that just because a team scores a late goal (in the final 10 minutes or so), people assume they were “lucky” to do so. In my opinion, luck had nothing to do with Argentina’s performance yesterday. Looking at any of the statistics which are the highest predictors of success in soccer (# shots on target, # total shots, ball possession, and # of corners) Argentina fared better than Switzerland. The Swiss goalkeeper Benaglio made several key saves throughout the match which kept his team in it.

True, Switzerland did play well and created some chances, but Argentina were clearly the better team. It is not necessarily realistic to expect any team to dominate their opponent in the knock-out stages of the World Cup. Almost all the gams in the Round of 16 were decided by 1 goal, and several of them also required extra time (or in the case of Brazil-Chile, penalties). In this particular game, Argentina created many chances but failed to find the back of the net until Messi came up with some individual brilliance. After a quick re-possession of the ball in the opponent’s half, Messi got the ball and dribbled very quickly, straight up the middle of the field. He attracted 3 Swiss defenders, including their left back, who came too close to Messi, allowing too much space for Di Maria on the right side of the pitch. Messi dribbled just long enough to get the left back to commit to him, before quickly passing off to Di Maria, who promptly scored the late winner.

I believe that it will be moments of individual brilliance that may be the deciding factors in several of the remaining World Cup games. Don’t expect to see any teams in the up-coming quarter-finals wining by 3 or more goals – the quality in each of the teams who have advanced is too strong to allow that to happen. Also, as I mentioned yesterday, the deciding goal in the Argentina-Switzerland game came immediately after a re-possession, another fine example of the importance of counter-attacking in the modern game. I think we are in for more of the same in the next 2 weeks.

I’d love to hear your thoughts about this. Drop me a line here to get the conversation started.


Soccer Fitness – Brazil Trip Day 3


Happy Canada Day everyone!

Today the sun finally came out in Rio De Janeiro!  I was on the beach all day and stayed at the Fan Fest to watch the Argentina-Switzerland match.  I must say that the Argentinian fans are pretty amazing.  The whole day they were singing and partying on the beach.  I tried to learn the words to one song, the last verse of which is “Maradona e mas grande de Pele” – Maradona is better than Pele!  I watched the Belgium-USA game at a restaurant near my hotel, then met up with a former coach of mine who is now coaching youth soccer with one of the clubs I work with, afterwards.

The second game today made a great impression on me.  In the past 5 years, the importance placed on speed and high intensity running in soccer-specific sports science research has been steadily increasing, and I have seen practical examples of this at various levels of the game in which I have worked and been involved with, including female Provincial and National teams, and male professional academy and senior professional teams.  If you watched the Belgium vs. U.S.A game today, you will have seen a great demonstration of just how important speed and high intensity running are to soccer at the highest level.  Belgium deployed an all-out attack, pressing the U.S.A. in the middle 3rd of the field, forcing them to lose possession and then countering with speed from the centre and both flanks of the pitch.  Several of their players (specifically midfielder Fellani, and forwards Hazard, Origi, and Mertens) seemed like they made 200 sprints each in this game.  Every single time they attacked, Belgium sent 4-5 players forward at full speed, sometimes over distances greater than 30 metres, and it was only the brilliant goalkeeping from the United States’ Tim Howard that prevented the game and score line from being very lopsided.  The substitutes Belgium brought into the game in the extra time period, Romelo Lukaku and Naser Chadli, continued the trend of frequent, intermittent bursts of speed for the remainder of the game, and to great effect as both Belgium’s goals were scored in the final 30 minute period.

Payers have to train very hard – and smart – to develop the ability to perform so many sprints over the course of a 90+ minute match.  Their training must involve a closely calculated workload that includes speed, power and acceleration training (to improve and maximize the speed of each run), in combination with a large amount of high intensity aerobic endurance training (to improve the recovery between sprints and ensure optimal performance later in the game, even when fatigue sets in).  I don’t have any data on the exact amount of sprints the Belgium players did today, but I am sure that if/when it does come out, it will be very impressive.  The running speed of the players is also used in combination with extremely quick transitions between defending and attacking, and both of Belgium’s goals, as well as several of their shots on target, were created within 4-6 seconds after winning possession of the ball.  I believe this type of quick counter-attacking, using players who possess world class speed and recovery, will be the future of how soccer is played.  I just don’t think it will be possible to break down organized and disciplined defenses unless you catch them off-guard, when they are unbalanced, with a quick counter.  It will be interesting to see if Belgium is able to sustain the same amount of high intensity running and effective counter-attacking against Argentina, a technically more talented team than the United States, and also a team that likes to keep a lot more possession of the ball.  We’ll see what happens in a few days..