Soccer Transition Training - Tony Englund - ebook

Soccer Transition Training ebook

Tony Englund



The 2018 soccer World Cup highlighted the increasing emphasis on transitional awareness and tactics. From elite domestic leagues worldwide to local youth coaching clinics, there is a pronounced effort to help coaches and players recognize and seize the advantages gleaned through controlling transitional moments during a match. Soccer Transition Training is the first complete study of critical transition moments. This book offers everything coaches at any level need to help their teams dominate in transition, including transition analysis, comprehensive examination of tactical opportunities, 100 exercises to prepare coaches and players for every transitional situation, and coaching instruction. Written by two leading soccer educators, this book is the training tool all soccer coaches need to help their teams dominate on both sides of the ball!

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For Tony DiCicco and Anson Dorrance–

World Cup champions and American soccer coaching legends

The contents of this book were carefully researched. However, all information is supplied without liability. Neither the author nor the publisher will be liable for possible disadvantages or damages resulting from this book.


Moving Between Attack and Defense

Tony Englund | John Pascarella

British Library in Cataloguing Publication Data

A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library

Soccer Transition Training

Maidenhead: Meyer & Meyer Sport (UK) Ltd., 2019

ISBN: 9781782558163

All rights reserved, especially the right to copy and distribute, including translation rights. No part of this work may be produced–including by photocopy, microfilm or any other means–processed, stored electronically, copied or distributed in any form whatsoever without the written permission of the publisher.

© 2019 by Meyer & Meyer Sport (UK) Ltd.

Aachen, Auckland, Beirut, Cairo, Cape Town, Dubai, Hägendorf, Hong Kong, Indianapolis, Manila, New Delhi, Singapore, Sydney, Tehran, Vienna

Member of the World Sports Publishers’ Association (WSPA),

ISBN: 9781782558163eISBN 9781782554790

Email: [email protected]


Foreword by Amos Magee





5 vs. 5 plus 1: Reading the Imminent Loss of Possession

Three-Team Transition Exercise

6 vs. 4 to Anticipate a Turnover


Organizing a Pressing Defense: Key Concepts and Discussion Points

Defending in Transition: Press vs. Counterpress

Defending in Transition: Exercises

1 vs. 1 Continuous to End Lines

1 vs. 1 Continuous: Immediate Pressure

1 vs. 1 Random Roles

1 vs. 1 Recovering Defender

1 vs. 1 plus 1: Press and Recover

Focus on Skill: Defending Footwork

Knee Tag: Getting Focused and Aggressive in the Duel

Ball Tap: Focus

Defending Approach Footwork: Diamond

Color Cones: Mental and Physical Approach Work

Defending Footwork: Jockeying to Control an Attacker (1)

Defending Footwork: Jockeying to Control an Attacker (2)

•1 vs. 1 (×2) with Countergoals

•1 vs. 2

Second Defender: Base Exercise

2 vs. 2 plus 4

Huber 3 vs. 3 Continuous to Goal

4 vs. 4 Functioning as 4 vs. 2

4 vs. 2 Pressing in Four Grids

5 vs. 2 Immediate Pressure

5 vs. 3 (10 vs. 6) Hunting Groups and Transition

Four-Zone Group Defending Game (1)

Four-Zone Group Defending Game (2): Defending a Central Zone

Four-Zone Group Defending Game (3): Moving to Cut Out Through Passes

7 vs. 7 Functioning as 5 vs. 5

7 vs. 7 plus Goalkeepers: Counterpress

Tactical View: Maximizing the Counterpress—Smothering Counterattack Options

7 vs. 7 plus Goalkeepers: Recovery

7 plus 1 vs. 7 plus 1 Pressing In-Depth Zones Game (1)

7 plus 1 vs. 7 plus 1 Pressing In-Depth Zones Game (2): Side Funnel

7 plus 1 vs. 7 plus 1 Pressing In-Depth Zones Game (3): Central Midfield Funnel

Holm Functional Pressing in the Front Third: 5 vs. 5 plus Targets (1)

Holm Functional Pressing in the Front Third: 5 vs. 5 plus Targets (2): Throw-In Restarts

Functional Pressing: 8 vs. 8 plus Goalkeepers

The Anatomy of Pressing—Choreographing a Team Press After the Loss of Possession

Possession Is Lost: Gegenpressing or Counterpressing

The Goalkeeper and Negative Transition

4 vs. 5: Back Line and Goalkeeper Defending Through-Passes (1)

4 vs. 5: Back Line and Goalkeeper Defending Through-Passes (2)

6 vs. 7: Back Line and Goalkeeper Defending Through-Passes (3)

11 vs. 11: Goalkeeper and Back Line Dealing With Balls in Behind


6 vs. 6 plus 1 plus Goalkeepers: Recognizing That the Ball Will Be Won

Uber den Fluss (Over the River): Finding the Outlet Pass When the Ball Is Won

Poachers: Intercepting Passes and Transitioning to Counterattack


The Recipe: Ingredients for Effective Counterattacking

Recognizing the Moment and Cues

1 vs. 1 Continuous: Timed Duels to Pressure Attacker

1 vs. 1 From Transitional Pass With Graduated Defending (1)

1 vs. 1 From Transitional Pass With Graduated Defending (2)

Pressure Finishing: 1 vs. Goalkeeper With 1 Recovering

1 vs. 1 to Goal: Individual Counterattacking

Numbers Up: 2 vs. 1 Penetrate to Goal

Numbers Up: 2 vs. 1 plus Recovering Defender

3 vs. 2 Continuous Attacking Transition

Bumpers Small-Sided Game: Go to Goal

Rondo Exercises and Positive Transition

Two-Ball Rondo: Defeat Pressure

Bump Rondo: The Team Under Pressure in Possession With Movement

Transitional Rhythm Rondo

Sliding Rondo (4 vs. 2): Changing the Point in Transition

Transitional Rondo: 3 vs. 3 plus 3

Triangle Midfield Rondo: Functional Horizontal Change in the Point of Attack (1)

Triangle Midfield Rondo: Functional Horizontal Change in the Point of Attack (2)

4 vs. 4 plus 2: One-Touch Possession in Transition to Break Pressure

4 vs. 3 (8 vs. 6) Transition

Focus on Skill: Long Passing

Driving Range Pairs Long Passing

Accuracy Long Passing 4s

Corner Targets Counterattacking

Focus on Skill: Turning

Pairs Basic Turning (1)

Pairs Basic Turning (2)

Pairs Basic Turning (3)

1 vs.1: Getting Turned

Transition Possession Game: Line Targets

Mobility in Attack: Four-Goal Soccer

Direct Play in a Small-Sided Game: 4 vs. 4 plus Goalkeepers to Goal

The Speed Zone: Playing Fast Through the Middle Third

Four-Zone Possession: Find the Outlet Pass With Pressure

Possession Game to Target Player in Central Zone

Cobra Strike: Getting Forward in the Attack (1)

Connect With the Target Player

Small-Sided Positive Transition from the Middle Third: 3 plus 1 vs. 2 plus 1 to Goal (1)

Small-Sided Positive Transition from the Middle Third: 3 plus 1 vs. 2 plus 1 to Goal (2)

Small-Sided Positive Transition from the Middle Third: 3 plus 1 vs. 2 plus 1 to Goal (3)

Small-Sided Positive Transition from the Middle Third: 3 plus 1 vs. 2 plus 1 to Goal (4), With Recovering Defender

•Getting Between the Lines: Transition Zone (1)—Striker Checking

•Getting Between the Lines: Transition Zone (2)—Midfielder Penetrating Run

Train the Target Player—Hold Up Play

Train the Target Player: Hold-Up Play (1)

Train the Target Player: Hold Up Play (2)

Train the Target Player: Hold Up Play (3)

5 vs. 5 plus Targets Middle Third Transition

7 vs. 7 plus Goalkeepers Zones Transition

6 vs. 6 plus Goalkeepers to 6 vs. 3 Transition Game

5 vs. 5 vs. 5 plus a Goalkeeper Transition Game (1)

5 vs. 5 vs. 5 plus a Goalkeeper Transition Game (2)

5 vs. 5 vs. 5 plus a Goalkeeper Transition Game (3)

6 vs. 6 vs. 6 Transition Game

Conditioned Game to Promote Counterattacking: 6 vs. 6 plus Goalkeepers

Situational Counterattacking: Counter After a Cross

Situational Counterattacking: Counter vs. High Defensive Back Line

Quick Strike from the Midfield: 8 vs. 8 plus Goalkeepers to Goal (1)

Quick Strike from the Midfield: 8 plus 1 vs. 8 plus 1 and Goalkeepers to Goal (2)

Counterstrike: 7 vs. 7 plus Goalkeepers With Defenders Absent

Numbers Up! Assessing Counterattacking Prospects When the Ball Is Won

When It’s Not On: Coaching Considerations in Positive Transition

Vertical Zones: Changing the Point of Attack After Winning Possession

Counterattacking Through Midfield Gates: Exploiting Wide Spaces

Focus on Skill: Finishing

Blitz: Intensive Finishing—1 vs. Goalkeeper (1)

Blitz: Intensive Finishing—1 vs. Goalkeeper—Breakaway (2)

Blitz: Intensive Finishing—1 vs. 1 plus Goalkeeper (3)

Blitz: Intensive Finishing—2 vs. 1 plus Goalkeeper (4)

Blitz: Intensive Finishing—3 vs. 2 plus Goalkeeper (5)

Short Cross and Finish (1)

Transition Near Goal: 4 vs. 4 With Bumpers and Counterattacking

7 vs. 7 plus Goalkeepers Functioning as 4 vs. 3 Transition

6 vs. 6 plus Goalkeeper: Functional Counterattacking in the Front Third

The Anatomy of Counterattacking: Choreographing a Sample Pattern

The Goalkeeper and Positive Transition

8 vs. 8 plus Goalkeepers: Counterattacking From the Goal (1)

8 vs. 8 plus Goalkeepers: Counterattacking from the Goal (2)—Goalkeeper Pushing Team Forward


Free Kicks

Free Kick and Counter

Corner Kicks

Corner-Kick Machine

Red Card

11 vs. 10 Training Match With Red Card

Penalty Kicks

Training Match with Penalty Kicks


Player Injuries

11 vs. 11 Game With Injury to Key Player(s)



Conditioning Scrimmage to Train for Twilight Phase

Playing With a Lead

Conditioning Game to Train Playing With a Lead

Playing From Behind

Conditioning Game to Train Playing From Behind

Other Challenges

Penalty-Kick Shoot-Out

Mock Penalty-Kick Shoot-Out


Sources and Recommended Reading


There are a lot of soccer coaching manuals out there. It is difficult to tell one from the other, to be honest. There are bad ones, and good ones, and really good ones. I’ve been coaching in youth and professional soccer for the last 25 years. When I look for a book on soccer, I progress through a list of what I find important. I start with the coaching ability of the author. Not all great coaches make great authors, and not all great authors make great coaches. But I’ve found that exercises and drills from a coach who has been on the field trying to develop his players under some type of pressure tend to resonate better with me. That has been my experience. Whether I’m coaching a professional team where my job hangs on the weekend’s result or I’m working with an energetic u12 boys team that I know is on the verge of exploding, I coach under pressure. External and internal pressure is what motivates all good coaches, and when I pick up a coaching book, I want the author to have experienced that pressure. Next, I look for a book that is easy to read and well organized. I want to be able to jump from exercise to exercise without confusion. I want drills that stand alone, and I want a progression of ideas that build on each other. If a coaching book is going to be useful to me, it must be utilitarian and functional. Lastly, I look at the quality of the soccer exercises in the book. Do they make sense? Are they easily replicated? Is there room for me to tweak them and make them more useful to my particular team? In Tony Englund and John Pascarella’s new book, Soccer Transition Training: Moving Between Attack and Defense, all three characteristics of a good soccer manual are satisfied in spades.

I have coached with and against Tony and John. I’ve seen their teams play incredibly well with all their players knowing their roles and responsibilities innately. I’ve also seen their teams clunk and grind to a halt due to lethargy or the opponent or whatever makes teams lie down from time to time. And on every occasion, they treat their players and their opponents with respect. They seek to educate, progress the entire group, and help their players enjoy the moments good and bad. The internal and external pressure is seen only in their eagerness to put their team back on the field to improve on the great performances or the poor ones. These are my type of coaches.

Soccer Transition Training is a colorful and easily accessible book. From the table of contents to the bibliography, the exercises are organized in a sensible way. The book flows with exercises that build on each other or stand alone as needed. Browse through it, and you’ll see for yourself.

The most important part of a coaching book is the content. The content of Soccer Transition Training is thorough, creative, insightful, and exciting. Coaching transition in soccer is not easy to do. I’ve seen professional coaches who have struggled putting together a cogent training session on transition. We coach offense well. We coach defense well. We coach set-pieces well. But coaching how we go from defense to offense, or defense to offense… we tend to leave these to competitive games or scrimmages. We expect that the game will naturally teach our players to transition through these phases of the game. But soccer has evolved. The speed and athleticism of the modern game demands that we teach our players how to be defensively organized while we are in possession. We have to be willing to defend in a low bloc but be ready to get into the attacking third in a few passes. This book will help you do that. The exercises are enjoyable. They are easy to replicate. They are simple and advanced. Enjoy the book, the exercises, and the explanations. Soccer is an ageless wonder that we can all enjoy for many more years to come, and this book adds to the pantheon of strong and effective soccer books that will help us do so.

–Amos Magee

Director, Player Personnel

Minnesota United FC (MLS)


This project has been a labor of learning. My previous writing endeavors have largely been an effort to catalogue what I have seen and learned over a quarter century of intensive soccer coaching. As such, I always felt that I was writing from a position of strength, with plenty of material and a firm grasp of the central issues, from goalkeeping to systems of play.

The decision to try to characterize and explore the teaching of the nature of transition in the modern game was, for me, tantamount to trying find one’s way out of the deep woods without a useful map. At first consideration, there is a lot of nebulous discussion on the subject, but no coherent, thorough treatment of transition in coaching journals, books or licensing courses. Yet this was a subject that begged to be explored. Watch any high-level match, and the analysis will most often include one team’s ability (or inability) to transition as a decisive factor. Indeed, the coaching community is now rife with stars who espouse counterpressing and counterattacking.

Knowing that this would be an effort to go into unchartered territory, I have relied more heavily on discussions with colleagues than in my past efforts, and I am thankful for the patience and input of all who had a hand in influencing this study.

I want to begin by thanking the staff at Meyer & Meyer. Writing and publishing can be a bit of an adventure under any circumstances, but from Editor-in-Chief Manuel Morschel to our editorial contacts Liz Evans and Kristina Oltrogge, the staff have been without fail helpful and supportive, and John and I are very thankful for the opportunity to publish our work with Meyer & Meyer.

Nathan Klonecki, the director of coaching at St. Croix Soccer Club, has long been first and foremost a good friend, and also my favorite conversationalist for philosophical discussions about soccer. We see the game differently, but we share a passion for learning and for teaching, and his insights color my understanding of all the topics discussed herein.

Mike Huber, with whom I have coached championship teams for the past 3 years, is the perfect pairing for me in a coaching sense. His sharp sense of humor and lighthearted approach to coaching make the job much more fun, and he has a knack for finding the right exercise at the right time. He, too, has contributed much to the ideas presented here.

Casey Holm, the remarkably driven and successful high-school, club, and college coach, went out of his way to contribute several specific exercises, and I am thankful for his ideas and our collaboration on the field.

Mike Kelleher, Kor Cha, Simon Whitehead, Thom Peer, Tim Magnuson, Matt Carlson, Mark Yueill, Wayne Harrison, and Phil Walczak are all colleagues who have added to my coaching philosophy and also my enjoyment of coaching over the years.

Jeff Tipping and Ian Barker, successive directors of coaching education for the NSCAA (now United Soccer Coaches), have both gone out of their way on numerous occasions to support both my soccer-coaching education and my writing projects, and I am very thankful for their efforts both on my behalf and for the American soccer-coaching community.

Amos Magee of Minnesota United FC took time-out of his hectic MLS preseason schedule to contribute the Foreword to this book. I have observed Amos as a player for many years with the Minnesota Thunder and through his work as a coach at the youth and MLS level. He absolutely radiates authenticity and soccer intelligence, and I am thankful for his participation here.

I met Tony DiCicco on several occasions and was always impressed with his sincerity and his commitment to soccer coaching, particularly to the causes of goalkeeper coaching and the advancement of women’s soccer coaching. He is missed and remembered in the coaching community.

Anson Dorrance to whom, along with Tony DiCicco, this book is dedicated, is a giant among soccer coaches. I have had the opportunity to meet and work with Anson on a handful of occasions, and I always walk away moved by his approachability, his distinctive, driven, and confident voice, his belief in the importance of a competitive mentality and his unshakeable commitment to his program and to American soccer coaching.

John Pascarella continues to be an inspiration for me both on and off the field. His energy, optimism, intellectual curiosity, and sense of humor are all very contagious, and the time we spent writing this book together has for me served to reinforce the feeling that coaching can be the most enjoyable of pursuits.

Tess Wilder and Jake Wilder are my stepchildren. They have now spent the better part of a decade with me as their “not dad,” and their patience with me as I tried to find my role in their lives is something I appreciate more each day. I am proud of both of you.

I would be remiss if I failed to thank my parents Tony and Carole Englund for their unfailing support of me and my coaching projects. Through all my playing and coaching experience and education, my dad has been the most outstanding coach—on and off the field—I have encountered. As this book goes to print, my dad is facing a series of complicated heart surgeries, and I have spent much time in recent weeks thinking about how much both he and my mom sacrificed so that my brother, my sister, and I could enjoy elite sports and a happy, supportive family environment as children, and how much both Dad and Mom mean to me. Throughout my journey, they have been shining examples of how to live one’s life.

My wife Beth has been a constant source of encouragement and support as I waded into and through this subject. I often marvel at her patience with all my soccer pursuits, and I am forever thankful that she chooses to share in and support these endeavors.

–Tony Englund

Soccer Transition Training could not have been possible without the help of many people along the way: my wife Lisa and four children, Kara, Cassie, John-Patrick, and Jordan, who somehow always manage to deal with Dad’s schedule and time constraints, already tight based on coaching and made tighter by writing. My parents, Gabriel and Antoinette Pascarella, who have always been tremendously supportive of my life in the game from an early age through old age (I’m actually only fifty-one, but it seems old on certain days). Our publisher, Meyer & Meyer, who must have liked our first book enough to let us write a second. My coaching colleagues—Amos Magee, Ashley Wallace, Davey Arnaud, Ian Barker, and Percy Hoff—each of whom contributed to our refining and now promotion of the book. Finally, I’d like to thank Tony Englund for the opportunity to collaborate with him on this book and on our first, Soccer Goalkeeper Training—The Comprehensive Guide. If it wasn’t for his persistence and guidance, I probably would not have understood the difficulties of writing and the joy that comes with finishing a project like this!! I hope you all enjoy reading this book as much as I have enjoyed the process of contributing to it.

–John Pascarella



In the summer of 2015, I was granted the opportunity, through the National Soccer Coaches Association of America’s Master Coach Certificate program, to spend several days watching first-team training and matches at Sporting Kansas City in Major League Soccer (MLS). The experience was outstanding, and I remain thankful to the entire first-team staff, and particularly John Pascarella, for the opportunity to talk to them at length about all manner of coaching intricacies and observe their work.

Interestingly, one of the seminal moments of that summer visit was the opportunity to attend an MLS match between Sporting and the Vancouver Whitecaps. At the time, Vancouver was sitting atop the Western Conference standings and Sporting was in the midst of a bit of a late season swoon, saddled with significant injuries and a lot of fatigued players. The game itself was a crazy back-and-forth battle, with Sporting winning on an injury-time goal.

However, what really struck me was the varying tactics of the two teams. Despite the undeniable success of the league, MLS teams’ tactics are often fairly bland, with most teams still not featuring the often-brilliant attacking personalities who highlight the tactics of major European clubs and leagues. Most MLS teams are well organized and defend with a lot of players behind the ball, playing very low-risk soccer. That said, Sporting Kansas City, under its outstanding manager Peter Vermes, plays a 4-3-3 and tries to press the ball all over the field. It creates a lot of turnovers and typically spends much of the game in its opponent’s half of the field. If there is a weakness to Sporting’s tactics over the past several years, it’s that it is often vulnerable to counterattacks because its shape pushes a lot of men forward and spreads them across the field. Its pressing also wears down its players over the course of the season, and the match, too, creating opportunities for counterattacking opponents.

Vancouver, by contrast, is set up in a 4-4-2 at the time, and it was extremely apparent that its back six (four-man back line and two holding midfielders) were simply assigned to hold their shape and win the ball back for the four attacking personalities. It was also striking to see the speed and directness of Vancouver’s play when it won possession.

The match left an indelible impression upon me regarding the importance of transitional moments in soccer. Sporting clearly thinks in terms of wanting the ball at its players’ feet, grinding down an opponent, and winning the ball as high up the field as often as possible. Vancouver, however, was geared to absorb pressure while not conceding a lot of opportunities and then strike at a moment’s notice, catching the opponent out.

Certainly, these contrasting tactics have been popular across the world for many years and in higher-profile matches in Europe and at the World Cup, but the game was a sharp microcosm of the two predominant tactical philosophies in the world today, namely that of teams that want to use the ball to wear down and exploit an opponent (e.g., Guardiola’s FC Barcelona) or teams (e.g., Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea) that “park the bus,” get lots of players behind the ball and then burst forward with a few key players to score a counterattacking goal. To be sure, there are many variations of both schools, and some of the best teams in the world find a wonderful balance (e.g., champions Germany at the 2016 World Cup).

However, whether it’s the evolution of tactics in MLS or the Premier League, it is clear that whereas the paramount tactical discussion in high-level soccer 20 years ago was about systems of play and, relatedly, style, there is clearly today a greater emphasis on trying to prepare players to exploit situations and, particularly, transitional moments in soccer.

This book evolved from the realization that despite the transitional emphasis in soccer coaching, there is very little in print to help coaches share ideas about how to manage these moments. In preparation for writing this book, we reviewed all the relevant literature available, including major biographies of leading coaches such as Pep Guardiola, Alex Ferguson, Jose Mourinho, Johan Cruyff, Arsene Wenger, Marcelo Bielsa, and others (please see the Bibliography for specific references). We also consulted more than a dozen professional, college, and club coaches on the subject. We watched hundreds of hours of video, reviewing tactics on both sides of the ball in World Cup qualifying, La Liga, the Premier League, the Bundesliga, and MLS. Finally, as high-level club, high-school, college, and professional coaches of more than 25 years, we also reviewed all the sessions, match plans, scouting, and coaching school information we have compiled.

The result is a thorough, and, hopefully, groundbreaking study of the nature and teaching of transition in the modern game. High-level coaches will find many examples of all kinds of transition exercises and games, from 1 vs. 1 grid duels to 11 vs. 11 conditioned games, all designed to flesh out and improve your team’s understanding of and effectiveness in dominating transition. For newer coaches, the work also helps lay out the nature of transition in both directions, providing teaching cues and a broad understanding of the critical concepts needed to execute the team’s chosen transition philosophy.

This book also pushes the proverbial envelope regarding the idea of transition to encompass two relatively revolutionary ideas.

1.Transition after the whistle. How many games hinge on the outcome of set-pieces? The team that can master the mental transition required to execute an attacking set-piece or fight off a defending set-piece is often the winner. The book therefore offers a chapter on these critical transition moments, emphasizing mental preparation, conditioned exercises, and more.

2.Transition through time in the game. This idea highlights the need to prepare our players to deal with situational challenges throughout a match. Statistically, a remarkable number (some estimate as many as 75 percent) of goals are scored in the opening or last 5 minutes of a half, or after a goal is scored. This situation, as well as unexpected transitional moments including injuries, disciplinary cards, bad calls, weather, and more conventional challenges such as playing with a lead or a deficit through time phases in the game are all transitional in the sense that the dynamics of the match change with the occurrence of and/or the movement through time phases in the match. Therefore, this book will offer a discussion of these critical moments with the idea that the coach must prepare the team to cope with and exploit these situations.

Some notes regarding the material:

Sizes of playing areas are often omitted. This is a purposeful decision, because it is important that the coach adjust the grids and playing areas to fit the needs of the players and the exercise. In all cases, the coach must be constantly attuned to the need to tweak the playing environment to maximize learning and challenge the players.

There is an emphasis in the material on efficiency in training. Economical training is ideal in any case, and this is particularly true where repetitions will be few because of time constraints, training load, and difficulty in recreating match conditions (and large-scale pressing and counterattacking moves definitively qualify in this sense). Thus, it is important for the coach to attend to details (i.e., ball supply and the number of players involved) to make training as efficient as possible for the players.

This volume is both a theoretical examination of transitional moments and also an idea book featuring dozens of examples of useful training exercises on all aspects of the subject. It is important to note that though the exercises are usually presented in a progressive manner, with few exceptions they are not laid out in complete sessions. Rather, the coach can pick and choose and find the right exercises for his team based on design, need, opponent, and training numbers.

The hope is that this book provides a wide-ranging, easily accessible means from which coaches of every level can refine their own philosophy regarding transition and an idea book from which coaches can pick and choose to make training on transition both interesting and effective.

Chapter 1


Jeff Tipping, the director of coaching education emeritus for the National Soccer Coaches Association of America (now United Soccer Coaches), opened a brilliant session at the National Convention many years ago by quoting French coaching legend Gerard Houllier.

Houllier, Tipping explained, defined soccer tactics based on four moments.

1.Our team has the ball.

2.Our team has just lost the ball.

3.The opponent has the ball.

4.Our team has just won the ball.

It is useful to view these tactics in a continuous, circular fashion.

Tipping went on to present a session on counterattacking that targeted the fourth moment, that is, what to do when the ball is won. Given the evolution of soccer tactics outlined in the Introduction, this was an especially prescient presentation. The game, particularly at the professional club and international levels, is now analyzed based on the principles outlined by Houllier and emphasized by Tipping.

As transitional moments gain more emphasis, one of the results has been a dramatic increase in the premium placed on tactical speed. The game is now played at a stunningly fast pace in transition in particular.

As a result, it’s interesting to note that tactical thinking is arguably now creating an extra pair of critical moments. First, the notion that our team has just lost the ball can be augmented with “our team is about to lose the ball.” This distinction is important in the sense that if coaches can imprint upon their teams the ability read the game to the point of anticipating the team’s loss of possession, the implications for the team’s transition will offer a great advantage. For example, if a center back sees that his long pass to the center striker will be intercepted and begins to recover immediately, he may aid his team in covering up before the opponent can seize the moment. Similarly, if players recognize the moment when possession is about to be won, a number of advantages accrue, from supporting runs and communication to penetrating attacking runs.

Think of the implications for teams and for the game if players consistently read play based on an understanding of the requirements for their position, line, and team for each shade of tactical shift throughout the match!

Thus, this book will propose that teams and players recognize six critical moments recurring throughout the match.

1.Our team has the ball.

2.Our team is about to lose the ball.

3.Our team has just lost the ball.

4.The opponent has the ball.

5.Our team is about to win the ball.

6.Our team has just won the ball.

It is important to note that some coaches will consider that the added moments—anticipating transition—either cloud the issue or will lead to players bailing out early on attacks or abandoning defensive assignments too early because they think that their team will win the ball. This is all well and good from the standpoint of philosophical discussion, and we spent much time debating as to whether it is desirable or even necessary to include the extra two moments.

Our conclusion: The philosophical discussion of the added moments is worthwhile in the sense that it highlights the ongoing trend toward speed and especially speed in transition in the game. Whatever one’s opinion regarding the utility of the added moments, most will agree that the ability to read the game with more speed can only add to the pace at which our players and teams transition, augmenting their collective success.

Given that so much energy is now invested in developing players, teams, and tactics that can exploit the opportunities presented by transitional moments (pressing and counterattacking in particular), it is time for a more detailed look at how these elements influence the game, and how we can best educate players and coaches to master these situations.

Chapter 2


Soccer, perhaps more than any other major sport, features frequent changes in possession. The movement to and from possession for each team is known as transition. Negative transition is the act of losing the ball, whereas positive transition is the act of winning the ball.

Many coaches devote some training to counterattacking (from positive transition). Fewer trainers devote much time to negative transition. Fewer still are well versed in coaching their teams to anticipate negative transition and therefore be prepared to maximize potential advantages accrued from speedy, structured transition.