The myth of attractive football

January, 28, 2011

Call me Dr. Killjoy.

Or just call me a soccer pragmatist. Because each day when I hear or read about another MLS coach promising to play "attractive, attacking soccer," I laugh to myself.

It's all lip service. Sorry to new Portland boss John Spencer, who said it here.

And sorry to new Vancouver coach Teitur Thordarson, who said it here.

And again, to Aron Winter, who promises to bring AAS to Toronto. He said it here.

About the only new man in charge I've been able find with a realistic view on AAS is Chivas USA coach Robin Fraser. "I've never heard a coach hired in this league who didn't say, 'I'm going to play attractive, attacking soccer,'" Fraser said. "But I think there are some keys to how you get there. You don't just wake up and play attractive, attacking soccer."

No, you don't just wake up playing AAS. And you may go into a season intending to play AAS, only to realize after your team has lost so many games trying to play AAS that you have no choice but to do something completely crazy. What's that?


For whatever reason, soccer fans and journalists alike seem to think that AAS is something you can create with a formation or a philosophy. New coaches love to talk the talk to appease those two parties.

Sorry. To play AAS, you need players. And even players who are told to make the good passes, to love the ball and to get forward are not going to keep attempting to do those things if they are failing. Why would they? There is a scoreboard for a reason. Winning matters.

It's a part of soccer I've never understood as a writer who's covered other sports. You wouldn't expect a baseball team without power hitters to hit home runs. You wouldn't expect a basketball team without good outside shooting to launch a bunch of 3s. And you wouldn't expect a football team without a good quarterback to pass often. But in soccer, we think there needs to be a mandate for all teams to play AAS.

It ties into our love of the creative player. Everyone wants players they perceive to be creative on the field, but no one ever seems to assess if those players are able to create in the face of high pressure, at top speed. It's one thing to create in friendly matches, or against inferior opponents. It's something completely different to create plays in matches where the defending is fierce and the speed is blinding. What's a creative player who cannot make plays in those types of games? The word that comes to mind is "useless."

So, good luck to all the new MLS coaches and their pledges to play AAS. But remember: If you keep trying to play AAS without the players, you'll soon be unemployed.

Call me Dr. Killjoy.



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