by Jeff Tipping
With more and more teams playing flat zone defenses more teams are using the ‘early cross’ as a way of crossing the ball from the flanks. In the Academy we have normally taught that the flank player should get to the goal line and pull the ball back to the near post or the top of the penalty box. Alternately, if those spaces are occupied the flank player should cross the ball to the back post. The introduction of flat back fours frequently gives flank players an opportunity to cross the ball as they approach the top of the penalty box. This kind of a cross is obviously executed earlier than the goal line cross and is particularly effective when the back line is outflanked and is running back at its own goal. The technique for the early cross is quite different than that used for the goal line cross and the coach should be familiar with the important technical coaching cues which will make the cross a dangerous cross.
The flank player eliminates the goalkeeper by hooking the ball so that it lands in the space between the top of the goal keepers box and the penalty spot. The ball should come in at waist height or below so that retreating defenders have difficulty clearing it. To get the ball to hook the flank player must do the following:
hips should keep facing forward in the direction the flank player is running
the ball should be struck from inside to out around the outside of the ball
most importantly, the big toe should be pointing up, which is essential in putting spin on the ball.
It is vital that the player does not spin the hips inside otherwise the ball will be driven rather than hooked. We encourage coaches to teach the early cross and teach players to recognize when a space has opened up behind the retreating back four. This is a very dangerous kind of cross and is becoming more common as the structure of the structure of defensive alignments change.