Fans' View

Fan’s View: It’s OK to step-over

Photo: Earl Gardner

Since when did attempting a step-over in a Union kit become the Philly equivalent of asking a woman if she’s pregnant? (Just don’t do it…ever).

After the Union lost to Houston, some criticized Leo Fernandes for trying step-overs and trickery while his team was on the back foot against Houston’s defensive pressure.

While Leo deserved some blame for that game, I think the step-over in general has become the unfairly maligned bastard child of technical skills.

In Philly, we love our players to be hard-nosed workaholics who shun the limelight and accolades while spilling their blood for the glory of the team. “It’s about the crest on your chest, not the name on the back.” Some seem to prefer our team to more closely resemble hockey players than figure skaters. And we nod in agreement with the late great Giorgio Chinaglia who used to say that the difference between today’s players and those of his day is that today’s players put on hair gel and cologne before the match. While we take this criticism to the max in our fair city, it is a common sentiment across the country, and I believe it may be one of the factors that leads to our underperformance at the highest levels.

Creativity and the U.S. game

For decades, typical evaluations of the USMNT have been “talented athletes who work hard, but lack offensive creativity.” Can you name more than a small handful of US players who’ve consistently possessed the ability to win one-on-one situations against quality opposition? While there are many potential reasons for this, one may be cultural. How many times have we been demanded as kids playing soccer to “stop dribbling and pass!” Players who flash attempts at fancy footwork are quickly criticized as “showboating” while coaches the country over croon “too many touches!” until blue in the face.

Here at PSP, some readers never miss an opportunity to call out a Union player for a step-over. Yet despite all the criticism of technical trickery, we equally loathe the lead-foot touch of many of our other players and our lack of creative play in the attack. (If you haven’t noticed yet, we in Philly are really good at complaining about our sports).

Do you think Messi’s coaches called him a “ball-hog” at 14 for trying to dribble past two defenders? Did Cristiano Ronaldo’s youth coaches chide him for selling the bacon to a wrong-footed defender?

No Union player ever caught more flack for this than Freddy Adu. Granted, there were many other reasons to complain about Freddy, but I never minded his attempts to break down defenders, even when they were unsuccessful.

Young players and trick moves

Young players have to practice these moves. They thrive off the confidence that comes from bravely adding creativity to their game. I often wonder what kind of a player Adu might have been if his mother had decided to move to Spain or Brazil instead of the US. How many times must have Freddy been told by American coaches to stop showboating. Perhaps if he was given the freedom to express his creativity during games as a youngster, his step-overs would be that much more deceptive and effective by now.

Of course there is a time and place for everything. Sitting inside your own 18 staring down three of the opposition’s forwards is not the time for a nutmeg (especially if you’re a goalie). Nor is it advisable to pull a 180 back-heel a la Balotelli when you’re on a breakaway. However, some of the best scoring chances come when the defense’s numbers become unbalanced, and one of the best (and often necessary) means of accomplishing this is by beating a defender with a deft touch.

We should give young players some slack in the final third if the attack dies at their feet during a deceptive move, especially if the idea was brave and if executed properly would have broken down a defender or created a scoring chance. Technically gifted Dutch winger Ibrahim Afellay put it nicely in a recent Four-Four-Two interview when he said, “The key to getting them right in a game is practice. You also have to be brave enough to try it. If you don’t take risks, you cannot improve.”

While it is the epitome of Philly Tough to chant “Hey, Casey, f*** someone up,” maybe it wouldn’t be heresy to chant “Hey, Leo, dance with the ball!”



  1. Whoever argues against step-overs doesn’t play the game that often… Professional defenders are so good 1v1 you need something to get them off balance on the wings… You can’t just run by them like in youth soccer.

  2. Step-overs have to be done in the right situation.

    1) Difficult to pull it off when you at a standstill or in tight space (see Adu). You need to be moving at a good pace so the defender is retreating and the attacker can then force the defender to make a mistake.

    2) If you don’t have pace or a quick burst in your bag of tricks, it’s a silly move to try as there is no downside for the defender as he can either wait you out or close you down quickly.

    3) Multiple step-overs only work for really pacey players.

    I’m not against players trying to be creative, but defenders can figure things out when a player tries a step-over in a bad spot.

    • +1.
      Too many American’s try the step over at a basic stand still, without pace (a la Dempsey).

      Two players to mimic on step-overs:
      1. Zidane. The single step-over is brilliant for the no-to-fast players. If done right, it works well. (Casey actually uses this successfully a few times.)

      2. CR9. The key for his multiple step-overs, is that w/ each one, there is the threat that he will take-off in that direction. Too many of us (I include myself for my occassional worhtless step-overs) perform these while leaning back.

      I’m ok with Leo’s step-overs as long as he is driving at the fullback, putting them on their heels. Adu never put anyone on their heels, because he showed no desire to actually blow past them.

      And as much as I dislike Cruz’s game, he is one the few players that actually drive directly at the back, making him choose.

      • Very true about Cruz, he always puts the defender under pressure. Unfortunately, sometimes his moves end up coming off like a little kid running into the coffee table at full speed.

        Zidane was brilliant with step-overs. I loved that pirouette he used to do. I tried mimicking that more than a few times with mixed results.

  3. I will always fondly remember the good old days of Freddy Adu the 6 or 7 stepovers before running straight at a defender. Now we have Danny Cruz who just runs straight at a defender.

    • See my above comment. Going at the defender isn’t the problem.
      The problem is that he isn’t cerebral enough to know what to do once the defender commits…
      Doubt this will ever change, but at least he challenges them. Marfan should take notes, because he has the ability.

  4. The U’s off the ball movement is static and predictable. Step over moves and the such allow players in possesion time and space to wait for the movement and lanes to open up. Everyone has been killing Leo, I think he’s going to turn out pretty good.

    • Andy Muenz says:

      When Jack’s in the lineup, the off the ball movement may be predictable but it’s certainly not static. I can’t count the number of times he’s made a run where a well timed pass would have sent him in on goal (think Seba’s pass in Chicago off the free kick as an example) but instead someone in the midfield has held on to the ball and Jack’s either offsides or having to turn off his run.

      I’m not suggesting that the midefielder was trying a stepover move or anything, just that Jack has had some really good off the ball movement.

      • Andy, I would agree with you wholeheartedly. I was more refering to Leo and the midfield. majority of Leo’s playing time has come when Jack has been away at gold cup.

  5. Yes, I definitely want our players to behave more like hockey players than figure skaters. Hockey players, forwards in particular, take on their opponents one-on-one all the time. But of course, there’s a time and place for that, just like there’s a time and place for hoofing the ball/puck up-field/down the ice.
    Creative play can be beautiful or it can be ugly.
    Direct play can be ugly or it can be beautiful.
    It all depends on the situation, and Leo Fernandes doesn’t really have what it takes to get by MLS defenders right now. It’s just his rookie season, and he may improve drastically and become an intimidating attacking threat. But for now, I’d prefer it if he focused on getting in the right positions and moving the ball effectively, and save all the fancy moves for training. That’s how he can best help the Union–well, that and getting off the field so that Roger Torres can take his place, but I guess that’s off the table.

  6. For a step over to work the defender HAS to be wrong-footed and / or off balance. It works very well when you are running at a defender who is retreating or who is out of position. The Adu / Fernandes standing still off a defender version is NEVER going to work as a way to beat a man one-on-one. Not only that but it also slows down the attack and gives the rest of the defending team the opportunity to set themselves.

    Maybe if Leo did ANYTHING else that was good instead of being a leaden-footed turnover machine we would forgive the useless step-overs.

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