Japan v USA WUGC 2016: Japan communicating to cover USA’s initial options

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First thing that catches the eye here is Japan’s #3 not following the early deep cut, but switching onto Beau instead – he’s likely been given the task of stopping the first under threat whilst a teammate picks up the deep threat (a fairly common tactic to stop set plays).

More interestingly, the two Japanese defenders towards the top of the screen position themselves so they are able to see each other, and then communicate via gesticulation – pointing out the threat they want the other player to cover. They haven’t decided exactly who they will be marking until they arrive and analyse the situation. If Mickle (cutting under on the far sideline) had arrived earlier, it’s quite possible the Japanese defenders would’ve chosen to mark different players. Both defenders react immediately to the shared communication, and take their marks. This one-second of communication & teamwork puts USA on the back foot and results in a stall-6 layout save.

USA may be applying the old adage “run through the poaches” here, however the Japanese players are not really poaching – after the first couple of seconds they are each covering a specific mark. Note how every defender glances frequently between their mark, the disc, and the space – dynamically reacting to the positioning/space and where the thrower is focusing, so they are able to save their energy by only committing to cover realistic & time-critical threats. This gives the impression of poaching, improves the efficiency of their movement, and helps facilitate dynamic switching of marks.

Ben Wiggins (/u/blwiggins) realised that Buzz defenders pay a lot of attention to where the thrower is looking when trying to figure out their D in 2007 – this clip of him throwing a no-look score and then giving a knowing nod has stuck in my mind ever since! (excuse the quality – it’s more obviously no-look on the DVD) It’s apparent that Japan run down the pull matching person-for-person, and when they arrive they re-analyse, focusing on communicating and switching where possible. This maximises their effectiveness and adds an unpredictable element which often negates any set play the opposition has planned.