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“In the Box”: The Rotational Split Squat and Sporting Kansas City

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The keys to avoiding that fateful faltering.

MLS: Orlando City SC at Sporting Kansas City Amy Kontras-USA TODAY Sports

Call me crazy. After a night of sometimes watching those late CONCACAF Champions League matches, I will awake at 5:30am and get in my workout to start the day. During my core/aerobic hour-long workout, there are two parts that challenge me the most. First, I will just say I sweat the wait for the bell that ends my 15-minute elliptical session.

The second notable challenge is the rotational split squat.

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It is not the splitting of the legs into a squat at the end that is most difficult. It is the rotation; it feels unnatural because the rotation is in the same direction as my front leg. My brain and body long for stability on that side via the same-side back leg, but my back leg is the opposite leg. Thus, the stability must come mostly from my core and my hips, not my legs. It throws the mind and especially the proprioceptors off. Add in the weight, balancing in the position without faltering becomes a definite challenge. It is the weight of the rotation that makes it most difficult. (The finishing squat is actually the easiest part.)

Perhaps the “weight” is what makes defensive rotation and achieving balance in soccer difficult as well.

In the 34th minute of Sporting Kansas City’s 1-1 home draw with Orlando City last Friday evening, Portuguese attacker Nani sees he has Sporting right back Jaylin Lindsey 1v1 with no cover. The former Manchester United feature bursts past Lindsey to the end line, only to have his would-be dangerous cross erased by a rescuing, sliding Nicolas Isimat-Mirin. Orlando binged on similar danger throughout the match. After Orlando out shot, out possessed, and outperformed the hosts in expected goals – and created two goals that were called back by VAR – the result was somewhat fortunate for Sporting Kansas City.

The end result of Orlando using space well is encapsulated above. But the reason they often ran free is because Sporting’s midfield was often an unfenced, open playground. Let’s take a look as to why.

Hulu

In the freeze frame above (via Hulu), Orlando defender Antonio Carlos has a step on Kansas City’s pressuring Roger Espinoza. And that is okay. It seems that Sporting’s three principles of the (somewhat) guiding “pressure” by Espinoza nearest the ball, the “balance” of Gadi Kinda (think of balance as the wider leg of a right or oblique triangle, the leg that allows the triangle to stand firmly) deeper in the picture to the right and the “cover” of Remi Walter facing the ball have sprung a defensive “trap” on Carlos.

But Carlos’ eyes are forging ahead, ahead to the deep open space. Right winger Khiry Shelton (certainly not the only one guilty on the night) is not only flat-footed, but he has failed to rotate and provide balance deeper in the space. Perhaps the weight of decision makes Shelton falter. “Do I make sure the ball does not find the left back for a run behind me or do I worry about the deeper Nani?”

The answer is always to rotate into space and deny the deeper split and the deeper problem, especially near midfield thru the first 30 yards of your own half (and don’t leave Nani with space galore to do what he wants, including going at your wing back 1v1). A defender can always go forward and pressure the ball carrier. Never forget: the ball moves faster than the player. The immediate result is this:

Green may be the color of money, but it is also the color of opportunity for an open field athlete. In the middle, center back Andreu Fontas and left back Luis Martins are behind their marks, with Isimat-Mirin (out of the picture) just ahead of the Orlando central runner. I can almost hear the trailing players utter a unifed “Oh, crap.”

Some may wonder about Lindsey being so far off Nani. First, had the necessary rotation and balance been in place, the situation would not have happened. Thus, Lindsey’s position would not matter so much. Once Lindsey sees what develops, he chooses the right position by backing up so it is not possible for Nani to beat Lindsey so far up field, and then have acres of space completely unhindered, making it imperative for center back Isimat-Mirin to come out to the wing to slow Nani.

Professional athletes are fast. The ball is faster. To defend them, one has to carry the weight of rotation decisions comfortably and quickly and deny splits by providing balance for your side. Balance keeps a team upright. Look for Sporting Kansas City to improve their balance as the season carries on.