A possession-based game serves Lady Panthers well

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By Scott Akanewich

If one team has the ball, the other side can’t score.

Simple as that.

Or is it?

Liberty Hill’s girls’ soccer squad thrives on having constant control of the ball and therefore dictating the pace of the game, which ultimately gives them the best chance at victory.

According to Lady Panthers head Coach Darren Bauer, it’s definitely an endeavor worth undertaking – even if it requires maximum effort.

“How we play isn’t easy – it’s a lot of hard work,” said Bauer. “But, as hard as you’re working to keep the ball, the other team is working even harder to get it back. If you give the other teams fewer opportunities, it will frustrate them.”

Bauer may employ different tactics and various formations, but one thing always remains the same.

“Even though we run different formations, we always play a possession style,” he said. “As a defender, it’s going to wear you down.”

Emma Stephens is one of the Lady Panthers entrusted to carry out the keep-away in the middle of the park from her midfield position and realizes time is of the essence when it comes to running a possession game.

“You have to be able to move the ball around quickly, which gives you more opportunities to attack,” she said. “So, you can get the ball towards goal before the defense takes it away.”

Most of the time, Stephens will get the ball with her back to goal, then look to either turn herself or get the ball to an open teammate as quickly as possible when openings appear in the defense.

“Moving the defenders quickly is important,” said Stephens. “Sometimes, you have to move out of position to confuse them.”

Patience is a virtue in playing this way, she said.

“You need a lot of patience, so you don’t lose any chances you might have,” said Stephens. “If you dribble the ball right at a defender and they step out, you can lay the ball off to the outside.”

Cohesion is also critical in successfully executing a possession game, she said.

“We all have to work together as a team,” said Stephens. “If we have good chemistry, we can find open spaces.”

Playing this style is one that takes time and is a system some players aren’t accustomed to, which adds another element to the process of employing it successfully, said Bauer.

“A lot of our girls struggled with it at first when they were freshmen because they hadn’t played that way with their club teams,” he said. “But, over the past few years they’ve learned well and now enjoy playing that way.”

Bauer said there are three basic principles to playing a possession game.

“First, you have to keep things simple, second you play the way you face and then take no more than two or three touches before passing the ball,” he said.

In order to acclimate the players to playing this way, drills on the training ground include passing the ball quickly in small areas.

“The spaces to operate in games are going to be small,” said Bauer. “So, if you can do it in small spaces, you can do it in bigger areas out on the field.”

Sounds simple enough.

“All you have to do is calm down, be creative and play the game how you see it,” said Stephens. “You have to move into open spaces, not be lazy and know where you’re going to pass the ball.”

When an inferior side is faced with the prospect of playing a possession team, sometimes the optimum strategy is to sit back and defend, making yourself difficult to break down, which cause problems for even the most talented offensive teams.

So, in that instance, one must attempt to get the defense to move out on you and open spaces to attack in behind where they vacate, said Bauer.

“Patience is required in order to move the ball into dangerous spots to get the defense to shift,” he said. “One way of doing that is to take shots from distance.”

Junior midfielder Mykenna Russo is a long-distance specialist and is exactly the kind of player Bauer needs to tempt defenders to abandon their posts.

“When you have someone like Mykenna who can rocket balls from 35 or 40 yards, it’s much easier,” he said. “All she needs to do is find a small pocket of space.”

As the Lady Panthers get ready to embark on district play, they know they will face sides that will attempt to do exactly that in order to neutralize them, so Bauer is making sure his charges are equipped for the task ahead, he said.

“We know we’re going to see it and it’s frustrating for the girls,” said Bauer. “But, you just have to learn how to break it open.”

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