The pass that makes my heart sing

Watch this clip that Adam Belz cut from the USA-Trinidad game. Notice the pass from Weston McKennie at the 12 second mark. The teams I’ve been on and the coaches I’ve been around have called it an “Around the Corner” pass.

(As a quick disclaimer, I disagree with the statement in the Tweet, but that’s another conversation for another day. Let’s just focus on the action of the pass.)

I love that Adam highlighted this pass. It is, by my estimation, the most underused pass in soccer. It’s nearly impossible to stop; it’s extremely effective; and it’s not that difficult to execute relative to the other actions that garner the same returns.

The pass has the obvious advantages of playing forward and breaking lines. We take those as givens as positive on the soccer field. This pass, though, has a couple other advantages that make it so valuable:

  1. The pass is made while the passer is moving forward. The attacker has the natural advantage of already being in stride as the ball moves forward -- plus the defender is moving the other direction to close the ball. It’s impossible for the defender to keep up with the run. The passer can move the ball forward and join the attack unmarked in one action. You can break lines and create overloads at the same time. In the clip, notice how quickly McKennie goes from playing with his back to goal to running at the Trinidad back four; how quickly the US goes from regular possession to putting Trinidad under real pressure. Whenever we see teams struggle to break down deep blocks or breakthrough pressure pockets, this pass is the answer. (There’s also a point to be made here about the ability to counter-press more effectively in the case of a turnover because you’re already sprinting to close down the area.)

  2. Looking for this specific pass forces the attacker to think ahead. You can’t decide to make this pass after you receive the ball. You have to plan it a step ahead. I don’t need to explain why thinking ahead is important. But I think coaches could do a better job of forcing players to do it. Coaches tend to ask players to think ahead to perform actions; sometimes that needs to be flipped. The coach can ask for actions that help players think ahead. (I’d argue that pressing is effective and useful, beyond the Xs and Os, because it’s always forcing players to constantly be on the move.) If the coach tells the players to always be on the lookout for the Around the Corner pass, the player is forced to always check his shoulders and look for the next pass. As a result, it’s not just an effective pass in itself, it’s a means to getting players to do the single most important thing in the game, which has its knock-on effects.

Given how effective the pass can be, it is a weird historical happenstance that teams do not use it more. I write this post, mostly, to get the word out.

Adam’s right, it’s a gorgeous pass. But it shouldn’t be something that we need to single out. It’s an action that’s within almost any professional player’s ability. It just isn’t coached or thought about enough; it hasn’t been soaked into the bloodstream. Ideally, it would be considered the standard or norm rather than a unique or special moment.