Parking the bus.
It's cliche, it's overplayed, and it's lost a lot of meaning. But you know, there's something to it, and it describes what is really a common phenomenon, and it's one that we can see as a problem we face.
But before we jump headlong into this sort of thing, let's define it a little bit. Here's what parking the bus isn't:
- Defending of all sorts
- Being bad at attacking
- Dropping your defensive line deeper than you normally would
There's surely more it's not, but we should probably also explain what it is a bit. It's defending in numbers — eight or more, typically — and showing little ambition to attack with more. It's tightening the gap between your midfield and your defense to such an extent that playing through just isn't an option for the opposition.
It's something we've seen before, and it's something we saw as recently as Saturday, when FC Dallas parked that metaphorical bus around the 70th minute and left it idling. (No-idle zones, folks.) There's no judgment in this statement, though. Dallas recognized when their attacking options dried up, and when Real Salt Lake tried to change the game by bringing Robbie Findley on.
The judgment should be turned toward us: We failed to break it down. Without further ado, here are some ways we can break down that bus.
1. Score a goal early
Maybe it goes without saying, but the easiest way to get a team to not set out a defensive wall is to score before they get a chance to. Against Dallas, there were plenty of opportunities to do so, but we took a cautious stance and were made to suffer. If we'd scored in the first half, before the defensive stance was set out, we'd have scuppered their opportunity to play for a goalless draw.
2. Exercise patience
We've improved in this regard, but it bears repeating: When the opposition tightens the defense, be patient and play your game. Draw players out with good movement, don't just swing the ball into the box and hope that somebody gets his head to it. We're not one of those teams that typically excels when it's "thrown into the mixer" or whatever metaphor you prefer. Our performance in this regard was better against Dallas than it had been in years past, but it was hardly perfect.
3. Move around!
It's the biggest problem we experience when we're trying to beat a defensive setup: We just have to keep moving. If there are too many players in the box to really get a shot away, get your midfield creating some havoc. Against Dallas, we struggled a bit, and that's in part because we opted to go outside the box without our movement. There was little reason for Dallas to follow us out there, and it showed when we simply had very few clear chances — if any. Force defenders to move from their positions, and if they don't, take the opportunities that arise. If they do, continue that movement and open more space. Whether we're looking for a shot from distance or an opportunity in the box, we'd be better off creating our own chances.