Making all of the right moves
or should I say futbol aficionados. Yes, I admit, writing an article instead of coaching is a switch. No, I won't use this space to rant and rave about my recent going-ons, but I do have to admit that I do miss the day-to-day -- the challenge, the work and then the weekend thrill of coaching.
As we move from week to week towards the MLS title game, I will look at the coaching side of the game. The MLS season is at a critical stage and coaching decisions are key. The substitutions made in a game often give us an indication of what the coaches are thinking.
Let's be honest: We all sit there watching or attending games and forming our own opinion as to what substitution move the coach should make. Then the fourth official holds up the board with the numbers on it and often we say "What is that coach thinking?" Let me tell you: no coach makes a sub and thinks "This is a stupid move. Let me see how the crowd reacts to this."
Every coach feels that the change he is making will impact the game positively or serves a purpose. The difference between successful coaches and the others is that the good ones get it right more often. But no one gets it right all the time -- sometimes the change blows up right in front of you.
However, there are certain guidelines that you can apply:
1. First-half changes or changes at halftime are due to either injury or poor play in the eyes of the coach.
When Craig Ziadie came on for Tenwya Bonseu this weekend for the MetroStars, it was due to injury. Evan Whitfield for Denny Clanton at halftime in the Chicago game was a result of Clanton being taken advantage of by D.C. United. Joseph Ngwenya for Andreas Herzog at halftime for Los Angeles was a reflection of not being happy with the output in the first half.
2. Second half substitutions take on many reasons. Injury and poor play still play a role, but tactical changes, a player's fitness level or lack thereof, the yellow card status of a player or responding to an opponents tactical change can also play a role.
When Arturo Torres came on for Chris Albright in the Los Angeles game it reflected a change in tactics to a six-man midfield and three in the back, as well as a fear that Albright might get a red card. Cornell Glen for Fabian Taylor in the MetroStars game was a case of head coach Bob Bradley giving Taylor some second half minutes to get it right -- and when he did not the change was made. Chris Gbandi for Milton Reyes in the Dallas game another example of fear that Reyes might get carded and Gbandi had fresh legs. In the same game, Jordan Stone for Eric Quill was due to Quill being physically spent.
Sometimes you want to give experience to a player, or get someone minutes as they come back from an injury. Memo Gonzalez coming in for Marcelo Saragosa for the Galaxy was an example of giving out some experience. Bobby Rhine for Ronnie O'Brien by Dallas was to save O'Brien since he is carrying an injury. Jose Cancela for Clint Dempsey in the New England game was as a result of Dempsey going into the game with a slight injury and also to keep Cancela in the fold by getting minutes in a fun game for the Revolution. And when Kyle Beckerman came in for Pablo Mastroeni for the Rapids, it was the signal for game, set, match, New England.
Often, you know you want to bring someone in but you are not sure who to take out. When the Crew's Jeff Cunningham needed to come in, unfortunately Kyle Martino was the odd man out. But it was a great substitution as Cunningham provided two tremendous passes that led to goals.
Sometimes, you want to honor your player or let them hear the applause. The late change for Buddle was an example of this and he received well-deserved applause for a four-goal game. In Europe, you get players in to get them a share of the bonus money. Yes, sometimes you make a late sub to kill the clock -- of anyone, Kansas City coach Bob Gansler uses this very wisely. It not only kills time but disrupts momentum late in the game. All coaches use this, just some better than others.
3. Generally, as a coach you use two subs and save one for the last 10 minutes or so. You save one because you do not know what is going to happen in regards to injuries, red cards, etc. If you burn all your subs early often you are handcuffed at the end as players take a knock or get fatigued. Eddie Johnson was gassed for Dallas at the end of his game against Los Angeles, but all the subs were used so he had to soldier on.
Finally, I want to address the most interesting part of making a substitution. It happens all over the world and at every level of play. It applies equally in men's and women's soccer, youth and adult. Whenever that change is about to be made and the coach is trying to get the player's attention or the fourth official holds up the board ... all players become nearsighted and go deaf. They always seem to be looking the other way and it often takes four to five players shouting at them to make them look to see that they are being subbed. It is a natural reaction, everyone likes to play.
Maybe I should have been deaf a month ago. Even coaches get subbed.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.