Kansas City are slowly finding their feet in the NWSL. The Kansas based team were founded just 18 months ago, and finished a dismal 10th of 10 teams in their first campaign in 2021. With injuries to their crowned jewels in Lynn Williams and Sam Mewis, the Current have struggled to find their over-arching identity in the early days of the 2022 NWSL season. But Matt Potter’s team have all the makings of a strong side in tactical ideologies and personnel to match, and could slowly start to climb up the table if more positive performances persist.Embed from Getty Images
One of their latest positive performances included a surprising 2-2 draw against the league leaders San Diego Wave, who boast the likes of Alex Morgan, Sofia Jakobsson and Emily van Egmond in their ranks. Despite conceding 56% of the possession to San Diego, Potter’s team played full of heart and desire, never looked out of the game, and scored two goals from set-pieces. In our latest set-piece analysis, we dissect the second of those smartly arranged goals, illustrating how you can replicate their short-corner tactic with your team.
DELIVERY & SET-UP
Kansas City’s second goal of the game came from a short-corner routine, with left-sided-centre-back Alex Loera starting the move. As we discussed in ‘Why there’s an abnormal amount of centre-backs taking set-pieces in the NWSL‘, Loera is one of many centre-backs in the league responsible for set-pieces, due to the excellent long passing range and accuracy necessary within her position. But instead of whipping the ball in (as she had done for all of the previous deliveries), Loera played the ball short to Hailie Mace – waiting at the top of the box.
Before moving on to what happens next in the second phase, let’s also explore the starting positions of KC’s three most dangerous attackers, and the relative marking scheme of San Diego in response. San Diego adopted an entirely zonal-marking approach against KC Current when defending corners, but without adjusting their marking to accommodate KC’s desire to swarm the keeper. This vacated space for all three of Hamilton, LaBonta and Bennett to surround Kailen Sheridan, where Bennett, as the most physically capable, fronted the keeper’s view.
San Diego’s willingness to leave three players unmarked inside the six-yard box is already a dangerous tactic, as it puts all the onus on goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan to command the situation should a ball be whipped toward her. This marking scheme likely inspired Loera to continuously put her deliveries right on the keeper’s noggin in many of her previous corner kick attempts, which Sheridan often had to punch away under pressure.
But in a short-corner routine, a zonal approach like San Diego’s puts even more pressure on Sheridan. That’s because as the ball is played short, the entire San Diego team will naturally respond by pushing out – in the attempt to keep KC’s attackers offside. But if the likes of Hamilton and Bennett can appropriately time their run back on-side, they can often find gaps and holes to exploit the opposition, further away from the keeper.
When players start routines in off-side positions, they are less likely to be diligently marked on second balls, which is exactly what happens in this situation. A couple of other important factors lead to perfection for KC Current in exploiting San Diego’s poor marking; but it’s important to note how Casey Stoney’s team set themselves up for failure right from the start of this Current routine.
As the ball travels to Hailie Mace, the Wave collectively shift up the field to keep opposition players offside. On a corner kick routine like this, it’s practically impossible to do so in a coordinated manner. But not only that – shifting up in such a manner ensures that defenders are now facing the wrong way in trying to stop a second delivery. They now have to run back to goal to stop the cross, facing their own goal. This is where own-goals and defensive mistakes can so often occur. While the attempt to keep players offside is sound, San Diego simply would have been better off in this situation staying put, reducing the gaps between their defensive line and Kailen Sheridan. But the beauty in this kind of routine is that no team is ever going to do that. Players have been told from a young age that as soon as the ball moves away from goal on a corner kick, each and every player should move up together.
San Diego’s movement away from goal is then a direct response of handling Mace’s potential space to cross into the box from a different angle. Not only are they keeping players offside in moving up, but they’re readying their bodies to defend the cross at the angle in which it is likely to come. But as Bella Briede charges to stop Mace from crossing the ball, Mace instead takes a pause, and allows her own teammate – the initial corner kick taker (Alex Loera) to get back on-side.
In taking this pause, she simultaneously allows the likes of Bennett, Hamilton and LaBonta to better situate themselves for a cross, not only on-side, but between gaps of defenders, where can they lurk inside of the penalty area unmarked. While rather simplistic and rudimentary, it’s a brilliant example of La Pausa. So by the time Mace then slips in Loera, the centre-back has enough time to adjust her body positioning to hit the ball on a first-time cross, before any San Diego Wave player can respond. Not only that, but now every San Diego Wave player is running toward their own goal, without a sound enough body shape to stop the cross.
Kaleigh Riehl does well to make herself the only Wave player marking an opposition runner, as she tracks Kate Del Fava’s movement toward the near-post. But such is the exceptionality of her movement and positioning, Elyse Bennett wonderfully finds a gap between Naomi Girma and Kristen McNabb, where neither can respond in time. McNabb gets caught on the wrong side of Bennett as she follows the striker into the box, and the Current forward finds herself with a tap in from six-yards away.
The quality of delivery, matched by her perfect timing into the danger area leaves Sheridan without a chance, even despite an unclean connection from Bennett’s shin scoring the goal instead.
A brilliant set-piece all around, and one that can easily be replicated with your team.
IMPORTANT STEPS FOR REPLICATION
When done right, this is an example of a set-piece that will guarantee goals. But like anything in football, it’s all about timing. In pulling this off, Kansas City responded to the initial marking scheme of San Diego, which left three players unmarked in the six-yard-box, and Mace alone at the top of the box.
The distance by which Mace started away from Briede meant that she had time to take a touch and a pause, allowing her teammates more time to adjust their positioning and ensure they started the next string of split-second decisions from an on-side position. Then as the ball came back in for Loera, it’s important to reiterate the quality by which she delivered the ball on a first-touch, ensuring there was no time for Briede to adjust again and charge down the centre-back. When it came to the movement of Bennett, she excellently motored from an off-side position into an on-side one, whilst looking for gaps that she could exploit in the opposition’s marking scheme. A player like Del Fava found herself marked by Riehl by starting in an on-side position from the get-go, whereas Bennett’s movement became more unpredictable from situating herself in front of the keeper, racing back in response to San Diego’s attempts to keep her offside, and then charging toward the six yard box to meet Loera’s cross.
While brilliant, this set-piece won’t work 100% of the time. But if your team can properly assess a time to play a short corner like this (such as having a player unmarked at the top of the box) and capitalize on that opportunity, this corner kick routine courtesy of Kansas City may just guarantee you goals.
Be sure to check out the full highlights video from the NWSL for this match, where you can see both of Kansas City’s set-piece goals, including the first one scored from fairly similar circumstances and brilliance.
So there it is! A short corner routine that will guarantee goals, featuring the Kansas City Current. Be sure to check out more of our NWSL content, set-piece routines, and follow on social media @mastermindsite to never miss an update. Thanks for reading and see you soon!
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