If I am playing 5v5, have no subs and a player gets hurt, doesn't playing 5v4 really put my team at a disadvantage?
Question 6:
If I am playing 5v5, have no subs and a player gets hurt, doesn't playing 5v4 really put my team at a disadvantage?
KARL DEWAZIEN, Director of Coaching, California North Youth Soccer Association, Author

Probably the most obvious response is that, in this situation, the league should require all games be played with even numbers; however, there are other beneficial considerations when playing numbers down.

If anything your team may be at an advantage, at least mentally. Having one less player on the field 'forces' the players to play more as a team. They will have a tendency to realize that they need to rely on each other even more. They will usually make up for the deficiency by making the ball work for them in attack by giving better support. They will also work harder to help each other by better covering in defense. Let me explain:

In attack - the players will realize that they do not have the same number of options to pass as with a full team. Therefore, they will (hopefully) make the job of the opponent more difficult by keeping the ball moving. The player with the ball will, in this situation, be faced with a numbers down situation. That is, the opponent will try to double-team the player with the ball whenever possible. In order to avoid this pressure situation, the players need to realize the ball moves much quicker and make the opponent work to get the intended numbers-up.

A good coach will have practiced 'playing short.' Possibly working on one-touch and two-touch play with emphasize on quick release of the ball. A coach will have practiced and convinced the players that being one player down does not change the environment that drastically. A coach will have shown that, with only four players, the essence of attacking (support) play is still applied and the player with the ball still needs options 1) through the long axis (a through or forward pass); 2) left and right (a square or diagonal pass) and 3) behind (a back pass). The organization is still there and all the players need to do is carry out their duties.

In defense, the same attitude should apply since there is only one ball on the field and the defensive objective is to stop the opponents from putting it in the goal. We must be a little more aggressive at covering for each other, with the closest defender still looking to pressure as fast as possible and the next defender responsible for giving good cover. All other defenders should look to move into supporting (balancing) positions that help teammates and limit the space available to the attackers. Since this is the basis of our defense with any numbers, not much will have changed by playing one man short. As mentioned before, the players may end up playing better defense when they are at a numerical disadvantage. This may give cause for them to work a little bit harder than usual.

Again, it is important for the coach to practice playing 'one man' short during practice. It should not come as a surprise for the players to have to adjust to the playing environment during a game. Practices should prepare the players for any situation and the loss of a player through injury or ejection is a reality that needs to be covered.

With proper preparation, the coach can bring success to his players no matter what the situation. It may be hard to believe, but many a game has been won by teams who were short-handed because the team with numbers-up eased up enough to make the teams seem even. From the youth to the professional level, players who think they have an advantage will let that affect their play. And the effort they give is not the same as when the teams are at equal numbers. As has been stated many times, the game is both mental and physical, and when we don't give 100% in both areas we will be at a disadvantage.


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