This week’s Coaches Corner is written by Matt Dunn, FCL Defensive Director, 2016 graduate of University of Maryland, current assistant coach at Loyola Blakefield and member of PLL Whipsnakes LC.
Transitioning the ball from the defensive end to the offensive end is the ultimate goal of a defensive unit. No matter the talent of your unit, an offense with multiple 2nd chance opportunities is bound to break the defense down at some point. In an IMLCA Coaches presentation in 2020, Coach Alec Jernstedt cited that one failed clear correlates to half of a goal for the opposing team (per Duke’s 2016 season stats). Clearing efficiently must be a priority for any top team. Given that the clearing team should have an extra player in an even scenario (i.e., the goalie), there should be an open player at any given moment – the key is finding that player.
Keys to clearing effectively:
- Spacing / Spots: Use the field & be available for your teammates
- Decision Making: Make the simple play, don’t be afraid to roll-back
- Stickwork: Execute the play, move through the ball
If players get to the right spots on the clear, make the right decisions, and can complete the pass, then a team should clear at a very high clip. If one or more of these components breaks down, we tend to see mishandled balls, picked off passes, offsides, and ultimately failed clears.
Option #1: Getting Up & Out
For most of the game, MD cleared the ball well against OSU on Saturday and was even able to spark some transition out of it. Although structured clears are necessary at times, if we can beat the ride by getting up and out, this is Option A.
One opportunity is to “leak” out in transition after the goalie makes a clean save. It’s not that you want to intentionally allow a shot, but late approaches do happen, and you may as well look to capitalize on the transition opportunity. If you can keep your momentum going up-field, there’s a chance the goalie will make a clean save and get the ball out. Goalies and defenders need to be on the same page here. It is also important that the other defenders are ready to protect the crease on a rebound. Here are 2 examples of Maryland’s poles did a nice job of breaking up-field after outside shots from OSU and sparking transition.
It’s really not that shocking when you remember who is their defensive coordinator. I played with Coach Jesse Bernhardt back in 2013, and he was the best I have seen at getting up and out after a shot. Niko Amato (goalie) and Jesse were constantly on the same page of getting up and out after a clean save. They would rep this consistently after practice, and we can see how it paid off in these clips below.
Option #2: Structured Clear
When in doubt, roll-back and get to your spots. Particularly at higher levels where rides are more organized, teams may need to get into their set clearing formation. If a team can get to spots, use space (i.e., the whole field), and handle the ball well, decisions should be relatively easy to make since there will always be an open player.
On this first clip, #7 Rahill picks up a GB and cannot look up field due to pressure. He does a nice job rolling away from pressure and throwing the over. This clip illustrates why it is so important for close defenders to “get to spots”. Meaning having two close defenders level with each other and the goalie at GLE (i.e., 3 across at the base). Since OSU jumps the goalie here, Rahill needs to use #43 Makar as an outlet. If Makar floated up-field or did not get to his spot, Rahill may have been trouble.
Once the close D handles the initial pressure, Makar does a great job of getting the ball back away from box side to a short-stick to clear. The box-side is extremely crowded when clearing due to substitutions, so a best practice is to clear away from the box.
In this next clip, we see MD get into spots off of a face-off. Once MD assesses there is not excessive pressure on the goalie and base defender, the 2nd base defender floats to his spot on the middle of the field which is MD’s standard clearing formation (some teams use 2 across the bottom and some use 3). Once again, note how switching fields back to opposite box side leads to an easy clear.
One more example of MD handling the initial pressure, moving through the ball on the pass to the middle, and finding an open teammate away from the box.
Clearing vs a 10-Man Ride
Towards the end of the game, OSU looked for opportunities to get into what appeared to be their 10-Man ride. Without going deep into strategy here, I want to highlight how MD’s ability to execute simple passes and move through ball (i.e., do not catch flat footed, but move towards the ball on a pass) when they receive it allows them to evade pressure and find open teammates.
A similar example here where MD stickworks their way out of pressure by keeping great spacing off of the start. It is important that Makar (#43) doesn’t creep up the field too early so that he can handle the pass, move through it, and find an open teammate. The good news about a 10 Man is that if you can break it, you may get a great look at the cage on the other end.
We hope you enjoyed this BREAKDOWN, and are excited to keep watching the top offenses and defenses this spring!
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