The Game Winning Cut

How do you score a game winning goal in soccer? Few soccer players have the ability to beat a player, make a move, or cut the ball in a way that changes a game.  And sometimes that’s all it takes, to change a game and win a game. What’s interesting too is sometimes that player might not do anything the whole game but there’s the one moment where they can do the thing that leads to a goal.

To do the unexpected, like Ronaldinho or Messi or Kaka, is a well sought after talent. Teams give all the money to the players who can make that game winning cut. It is wrapped up in experience and confidence. Few soccer players have this swagger, and that’s why they are paid the big bucks, because they will make the move that leads to a goal. And it is a move that inherently has a lot of risk involved with it.

Bruce Arena said this about Clint Dempsey. A player who wasn’t afraid to do the unexpected or try new things in big games no less:

“Clint had a lot of ability. He has a nose for the goal. We have an expression for some players – for Clint, we continually said, ‘He tries shit.’”

It’s those soccer moves where if the player doesn’t pull it off, the pundits and TV announcers are saying, “He should have passed the ball back and kept possession,” or “He should have played the ball across sooner.” And sometimes the player has to slow down to do that magical move, take a risk and beat another player or take a shot when the keeper least expects it.

  • Driving at a defender and cutting inside at the last minute
  • Lining up for a shot or cross but chopping the ball back to the other foot
  • A heel pass to a teammate
  • Dumming the soccer ball at the top of the box – let ball go through your legs
  • Lifting the ball over a defender’s foot to get past them
  • Beating a player down the line and dribbling along the touchline – laying the ball back
  • The fake shot at the last minute and switching ball to your other foot

There aren’t many players who can do it or have the confidence to pull these types of moves off. There are few Americans who can do it. And very few players in theMLS who can do it.

Donovan did it against Brazil when he cut back and scored the second goal against Brazil. Feilhaber does it on a regular basis, looking over his shoulder, knowing where the defenders are, cutting the ball to the side just enough to open up passing angles. Stuart Holden can do it. Sacha does it sometimes. Dwayne DeRossario does it. Santiano Quaranta can do it. Robbie Rodgers can do it. Beckham will do it, even in his old age. Blanco does nearly every time he touches the ball.

But the ability to do the unexpected is a deadly quality to have, and too rare in the MLS.  The MLS is becoming all frantic and physical and boring. Marta, over in the WPS, adds more flair to the game than most of the men in the MLS.

Etoo and Messi are masters at this. They seem to cut the ball back at the final moment when it seems like it’s too late or it won’t work. A player will cross the ball again and again from the wide areas. Then, when the defender has been lulled into believing the cross is coming again, great players cut the ball inside. It’s a fine line though, between dribbling too much, trying to do too much, and doing the sublime. But the sublime is what wins games, tournaments, league titles, and trophies. It’s that little move, not necessarily a step over or an elaborate move but the shoulder fake or touch in the ball one or another. It’s subtle.

Etoo’s goal against Manchester United was a perfect example, his cut left Nemanja Vidic in the dust and turned the momentum to Barcelona.  You could say the move and ensuing goal by Etoo won the Champions League title for Barcelona.

There are two players in the MLS who make those ‘surprise‘ moves and cuts, as Christopher Sullivan might say.  Blanco, of the Chicago Fire, and Schelotto, of the Columbus Crew, have the ability to do the ingenious and make that game changing move.  And they do it in a sleepy fashion, when everyone else is running around at a hectic pace, these two, the Mexican and the Argentine, slip past the defense or wedge a ball in-between two defenders and win games for their clubs.

How do you develop young players in the United States who do this? How do you as a soccer player develop this quality?  So much of it is confidence, and that comes with playing day in and day out and against the best competition you can find.  And surprisingly, the sublime move is often the simplest move – it’s an instinctual move that comes from playing with older, wiser and more experienced players.

MLS soccer players who have the pleasure of playing along side Blanco and Schelotto, might just pick up the ability to make those cuts, moves and passes through osmosis, by playing day in and day out with these two legends.