Peter Vermes likened his team's high-pressure defensive strategy in the attacking third to a style played by a certain powerhouse Spanish side.
Steve Brisendine of MLSsoccer.com wrote of how Vermes' team's ability to win second balls has aided in their ability to defend and have success this season.
“You can look at some teams around the world and the way they play,” Vermes told MLSsoccer.com on Tuesday. “I’m not comparing us to them, all right? But look at Barcelona, Real Madrid and even Manchester United, the way they go. If they’re winning the second balls in very good areas of the field, that means they’re very far away from their goal.”
“Winning the second ball” comes down to another “b” word: “basics.” It’s something coaches preach as far down as the youth level. If you can’t win the 50-50 ball, get the next one before the opponent can get into a rhythm and establish an attacking shape.
As MLSsoccer.com’s analysis of Saturday’s 1-0 win over the LA Galaxy showed, Vermes’ plan is for that disruption and possession to happen as far up the field as possible.
“You’re winning the ball back and you never have to worry about them getting a shot on goal because they’re just too far away,” he said.
And with Sporting off to a 5-0-0 start and riding a league-record 245-minute streak of not allowing a shot on goal ahead of Saturday's first vs. first showdown with Real Salt Lake (8:30 pm ET, watch LIVE online), it’s clear that he’s getting his way.
“The thing that’s been good about the guys is their commitment to winning the second ball off an action on the way forward,” Vermes said. “That helps us out a great deal, instead of them going and traveling 80 yards to our goal, getting a shot and then we build back up the field. You waste a lot of energy that way.”
That requires everyone on the pitch, not just the four in the backline and defensive midfielder Júlio César, to make defense a priority no matter where the ball happens to be.
“Our team really is a team of 11 defending,” center back Matt Besler said, “especially at home. Everyone has pressured and done their job defensively.”
The key ingredient in that high-energy style? The ability to keep it up for an entire match, which was lacking at times last season but has proven to be one of Sporting’s strengths this year.
“It’s hard to defend when you’re tired,” said Besler, who organized offseason workouts aimed at bringing the club into the season with an edge in match fitness. “If we can stay fit through 90 minutes, we’re going to be sharp, never break down and really be ready to go after the ball every time.”