Schmid: It's good to be different
and painfully direct at times, but always full of effort. All teams defended with desire but at this level, the defending needs to become better to allow teams to win the ball back in advantageous areas of the field.
Attacking needs patience at the right moments to allow teams to unbalance the opponents and keep possession to draw the opposition into bad positions. A team that plays a little different style like Santa Barbara always poses a problem in college soccer.
In the early '90s Santa Clara presented problems to college teams with their direct style and pressuring defense. They certainly had talent in players like Jeff Baicher, Paul Bravo, Paul Holocher -- all of whom went on to play in MLS. But it was their different style that really presented problems. Santa Barbara also had talent in forward Drew McAthy, midfielder Tony Lochhead and goalkeeper Dan Kennedy, but it was their style that presented the biggest challenge.
In college soccer, teams do not have the maturity, experience and patience to break down a team that plays differently than they are used to seeing -- especially a team that plays direct and with great tenacity on defense.
I remember speaking to Paul Breitner, the great German player of the '70s and '80s. I told him I had a talented offensive midfielder at UCLA. I might have used the word great -- which was a little much. He asked me how old he was. When I answered 19, he shrugged and said you cannot be a great attacking midfielder until you are at least 25 or 26. He felt it took that long to really understand how to orchestrate an attack and lead the initial line of defense. He was more right than wrong.
During the first half of the final, Santa Barbara settled the ball and tried to connect through midfield more than usual. Maybe it was a reaction to the constant bashing they had gotten about how they play. They had patches of joy, but not as much as in the second half. After halftime they were what I had seen before: a team that was direct and pounded away, a team that was relentless in keeping the pressure on the opponent. Indiana hung in there but eventually conceded the tying goal.
The way Santa Barbara played was different to other teams and my point is that collegiate players struggle trying to figure out a different style. As I said earlier, it stems from inexperience, which could be a result of not playing enough games throughout the year. It also comes from unfamiliarity, which could be the result of so many teams playing the same. Finally, it comes from a lack of patience, which could come from the open substitution system that allows players to come out when they struggle instead of finding a solution to the dilemma.
But having said all that, I want to congratulate Indiana on a fine season and another title to add to their many. I appreciate what UC Santa Barbara did this year and how far they have come as a program. I enjoyed the fans immensely and hope they get a chance to grace a College Cup again.
Sigi Schmid is one of the winningest coaches in MLS history, having led the Los Angeles Galaxy to four honors in his five-plus years at the helm, including the 2002 MLS Cup championship. Send comments to Sigi at firstname.lastname@example.org. Views and opinions expressed in this column views and opinions are the author's, and not necessarily those of Major League Soccer or MLSnet.com.