Monday, June 28, 2010

The Singularity of a Futbol Striker

Watching the World Cup this weekend, soccer-neophyte DBSF came to a realization--that probably countless others have come to--that strikers (i.e., the player(s) who play [almost] only offense) represent a unique group in sports.

Similar to offensive positions from other sports the striker is expected to use exceptional speed and to make phenomenal athletic moves to score. But, in no other sport is an athlete judged on his ability to finish (score) in such few opportunities.

In basketball, shooters are told to "shoot their way out" of slumps. It's nothing for Kobe Bryant to go 6-24 in a Finals game because he can make up for it on defense or by passing the ball, or it might be his next shot that gets him going again. In football once a team is on the goal line (or close) they might have as many as four (or more) opportunities to score.

Similar to basketball, hitters in baseball are notorious for going through prolonged slumps only to show up at the park one day and recognize that the baseball, which was looking like a tic-tac the last five games now looks like a beach ball.

Hockey might be the most similar to futbol in this regard but the relatively short length of the rink and the additional speed that skates grants players ensures that teams can usually get around 30 shots on goal per game and depending on the caliber of the defense perhaps half are good shots.

In a highly contested futbol match, like the US v. Ghana, strikers might have 4 or 5 shots on goal an entire game. Of those maybe 1 or 2 are 'good' shots meaning the shots are relatively close to the goal and unobstructed. Obviously, better strikers will be able to create more shots but at the World Cup level of competition it doesn't seem like these strikers will get more than 3 or 4 good shots in a game.

So, the primary measure of a striker is his ability to execute with almost certainty in his one or two opportunities to score. Imagine the pressure and public regard of an athlete if Ray Allen was judged on his first three shots of game, or Albert Pujols on his first two trips to the plate?

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