Region III ’94,’95,’96, ’97 & ’98 Teams Tour Guadalajara
I traveled with five boys Region III teams to Mexico in April. This was the first time RIII has taken all age group teams on such a trip.
For the first game together, all Region III teams performed surprisingly well, with such little preparation. Against the more experienced professional youth teams of Chivas, the American boys made several individual defensive errors and we were fortunate, at times, not to be punished. Overall, the approach play to goal wasn’t bad, but we relied on individual solo efforts versus intelligent combination play to create open chances. All Region III teams had problems working in midfield, and it took a while for our players to come to terms with Chivas’ movement and interchange of positions. They were very skilled at circulating the ball and moving off the ball in two- and three-man rotations.
Overall, it was not a bad showing by Region III. We surprised the Chivas Club teams in some cases with an early goal. Initially, our teams had too much athleticism, power and pace up front for their defenders. As the games flowed back and forth, Chivas adjusted to our athleticism and we adapted and learned on our feet to play with each other for the first time. The games were fast-paced and a mixture of poor finishing, defensive lapses and goalkeeping errors led to a leakage of goals in some of the games.
Tactically, these games were more balanced. The Region III boys had adjusted to this high-level competitive environment, played with each other and stuck to the game plan. Atlas fielded some younger players, and several trialists who stood out with different-colored socks. Consequently, Region III was much too quick, powerful and skillful, and overran the younger players in the second half of the games.
As a club, Tecos defended well and made all the Region III teams work hard. In each game, it was evident that all our teams grew from strength to strength. Teams were more organized and coped with the movement and rotation of positions of the Mexican players. Defensive lapses were unpunished and a few scoring opportunities were unconverted for both teams. Games were often opened up by our pace and power, a goal being scored often times against the run of play. Games were tight, but Region III kept their focus, team shape and discipline.
Touluca had a very clear strategy and style of play; all teams played 4-2-3-1. In the first half, Touluca dropped deep with all eleven players behind the ball, defending at the halfway line. This defensive tactic was difficult for Region III to penetrate. All games were tactically tight.
Our teams found success attacking down the flanks. Region III teams played with more patience and intelligence and kept good possession of the ball, with solid, organized team defending. This was the fourth game in five days and fatigue was kicking in — Touluca pulled everyone back and rarely threatened offensively. However, goals were scored from well-run set plays, comers and free kicks.
In the second half, Touluca changed their tactics, going to high pressure. Consequently all of the games opened up. Region III defended well and played smart, disciplined soccer. All RIII teams ended the weeklong tour with a win, finishing on a positive note.
Region III teams improved significantly with each game they played. All of our teams were disjointed in the first game. Defensive frailties were exposed, and offensively, we relied more on individual efforts and flashes of skill as opposed to collective teamwork.
The U.S. boys united quickly, however, and with good technique, high soccer IQ, superior athleticism and fighting spirit they developed good team play in a short period of time. The movement, passing and ball retention improved as games wore on, when the shape became stretched as opponents tired. As teams were pushed back by our speedy forwards, more space was created in the midfield third. Consequently, we were quite creative in the middle and attacking third. I was impressed with the commendable resilience of our Region teams to recover from setbacks and eventually win some of the games.
Good players come before your eyes all the time through the course of a game. At this level, it is fascinating to observe how our players responded. There were three levels of player — those for whom the game was too fast, those that blended in and did their job, and finally, a small few who stood out and stamped their imprint on the game from their position. Once you see our boys playing against good players and good opposition, then you see if they can have an impact on the game. Certainly North Texas boys continued to sparkle on this trip — Ben Hale , David Martinez (both ‘98s), Esi Cortez, Shaun Miltner('95) and Tony Santibanez (‘94) from each had an impact on every game they played.
We can glean lessons from this high level of International competition and apply these lessons to our North Texas State Team players this summer at camp and throughout the fall in training:
All our teams received outstanding coaching and were smart tactically. With very little time to recover from game to game, meetings were memorable as information was transferred to the players verbally or through game video. I would like to thank the coaching staff for their input in compiling this report through several conversations we had during the course of the week.
The Staff were: Head Region Coach Shaun Docking; 94s: Nick Zlater, Paul Maginley; 96s: Trevor Adair, Doug Allison; 95s: Wolfgang Sunnholtz, Brian Harvey; 97s: Mark Berson, Steve Allison; 98s: Ken Foggarty, Roberto Lopez; GK Coaches: Gwyn Williams, Van Taylor.
With only a few sessions to prepare the boys, the staff were experienced and skilled in devising sessions that helped gel the teams quickly without overloading them with too much information.
Finally, this group of boys represented themselves, the Region and their country with integrity both on and off the field.