Crooks’ Soccer Journal: Claudio Reyna and the importance of “vision training”

IMAGE, MATT KREMKAU FOR EMPIRE OF SOCCER

by GLENN CROOKS

When Carli Lloyd, the former Rutgers All-American, scored from just inside midfield for a World Cup hat trick, her eyes were raised and she was aware that the goalkeeper was far off her line.

Larissa Swartzlander tallied the game winning goal for Long Island University-Brooklyn in the Northeast Conference Championship match against Qunnipiac in 1999, when she initially took a look behind to gauge the direction of her first touch. Her second touch was in the back of the net.

While I would never take credit for these fabulous athletes and those two spectacular goals, there is a common denominator – both players were introduced to vision training while in a program I was managing.

Perhaps the constant shouts of “look around” were imprinted.

T.J. Kostecky, the current men’s coach at Long Island University in Brooklyn, is the co-founder of Vision Training Soccer and introduced me to the concept in my nascent days of coaching. In the New Jersey Olympic Development Program U-13’s, Kostecky coached a guy that went on to be the preeminent midfielder in U.S. Men’s National Team laurels, Claudio Reyna.

He was our Xavi.

“As a young boy I was playing in the middle of the park and something I was always told by my dad – you always have to look around,” said Reyna, a recent guest on my SiriusXM FC program, The Coaching Academy. “Then being coached by T.J., it was really bringing that out and making me aware of what I was doing naturally but also enhancing it because of the importance he placed on it.”

Reyna, who spent summers playing in his native Argentina, developed his exceptional technique and awareness at the legendary German-American club in Union, New Jersey, Farcher’s Grove.

“For anyone who remembers those fields, there was dirt, rocks and even glass,” said Reyna who shares Farcher’s alum status with Tony Meola, John Harkes and Tab Ramos. “It was by far the worst field I ever played on, and I played more games on it than any other field. There was constant soccer there.

“Sometimes it was a dust bowl, sometimes it was frozen and the ball was bouncing every which way,” continued the former USMNT captain. “As difficult as it was, you had to have your head up to play. That and playing with older players all the time developed me at a more rapid pace.”

Manfred Schellscheidt, the former U.S. Youth National Team coach and Seton Hall University mentor was visiting his Aunt from his native Germany at the age of 23.

“I arrived in the country on a Monday and went to practice at Farcher’s Grove on a Wednesday.”

Schellscheidt, now 73, is a staff coach at the Red Bulls Academy. Consequently, he can keep an eye on one of his former college stalwarts, Sacha Kljestan. Reyna, the current Director of Football Operations for rival New York City FC, was impressed with Kljestan in the two recent World Cup Qualifiers. Kljestan, with the requisite tools to play the No. 10, had two goals and two assists.

“If you watch him on the field, he’s not always looking just where his opponents are, he’s looking for the right space to get into, in between lines and in between defenders,” said Reyna, the last prototypical No. 10 produced by the states. “He’s doing two things – he’s looking for the space and looking for the opponent who is closing him down.”

At the six-minute mark of Tuesdays match against Trinidad and Tobago, Kljestan played the ball back to a supporting player first-time under pressure. He had checked his shoulder to form a picture of his surroundings.

“I’m always looking back and forth and over my shoulder, like I’m paranoid or something,” said Kljesten in The Players’ Tribune. “But I’m just taking snapshots and processing a mental map that’s always changing.”

“He’s a player who makes it look easy,” claimed Reyna. “We have Andrea (Pirlo) and Frank (Lampard) in midfield at NYCFC and they are a step ahead. The best players are two and three steps ahead of the opponent when they receive the ball and that’s what you have to do at the highest level where there’s limited space and the speed of play is much quicker – you have to think ahead.”

Reyna says it is simple to identify players who have not taken the opportunity to look and scan before the ball arrives.

“You see some players that are kind of jumpy when they have the ball,” said Reyna. “They’re basically telling you with their body language that they’re not quite sure what to do with it next. It’s the reason some players are calm on the ball, like Andrea (Pirlo). Because they know where everybody is and all the options around them before they get the ball.”

In a passage from Pep Confidential, the author Marti Perarnau described how Pep Guardiola, the player, became an effective midfielder at Barcelona.

“Pep prided himself in his ability to see and anticipate his next move before he had the ball at his feet,” wrote Perarnau.

“I think the focus for the coaches around the country needs to be on thinking quicker,” said Reyna, named to the 2002 World Cup All-Tournament team. “We have examples all over the world – not only the one decision, but similar to a Quarterback in the NFL, when that first decision doesn’t work you have to have the next one.”

Reyna has faith that emergent young talent, like Christian Pulisic, is steering the prospects of the USMNT in a positive direction.

“Pulisic – he figures out situations so quickly,” said Reyna admiringly. “The reality is, he’s not going to get much faster – he’s not going to get much stronger – but his decision making and thinking will continue to evolve.”

So get your head up and “look around.”

For more on Vision Training Soccer, visit http://www.soccervisiontraining.com/

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  • Bitter Pill

    Soccer in America owes much to New Jersey, and Red Bull Arena is perfectly situated right in the middle of that hallowed ground.

    • EPL guy

      This is COSMO COUNTRY !!!!!!!

  • EPL Fan

    Crooks Soccer Journal should be remained “Crooks is a shill for NYCFC.”

    • slowleftarm

      I guess it really hurts given that MLS rejected Cosmos and their global brand and instead decided to start a team from scratch. Especially since that team now has attendance and media attention that Cosmos could only dream of.

      • Larry\’s A Simpleton

        When these imbecilic dead cosmos fans mewl This Is Cosmos Country, I imagine they’re talking about one side of the lacrosse stadium only. You know, since dead cosmos management voluntarily closed down the other side of the lacrosse stadium due to lack of interest.

        #ENGLANDSUCKS

        • jwright

          don’t be so hard on the cos-shmos, they only have about 500 fans show up to games at the lacrosse field, but they have plenty of fans in Sweden, Cuba, China, brazil, and central America that “know” about them from 40yrs ago, guess it’s not doing them any good nowadays?…

          • EPL Fan

            Eh. I’m not eve a Cosmos fan. I just think that Crooks is a shill and you guys are ignorant Yank soccer fans who, oddly, are very obsessed with a bloody team they don’t even root for. Morons one and all.

            • slowleftarm

              I’m pretty sure “EPL fan” has never left Long Island.

              • EPL Fan

                Born in Sheffield. Moved to New York right after the 2nd Oasis CD.

                I’ll bet you have never left NJ nor have you ever had your head out of your arse.

                • slowleftarm

                  There’s a town on Long Island called Sheffield?

                  • EPL fan

                    You goddamn moron NJ trash !

                    • Larry\’s A Simpleton

                      I bet Sheffield did back flips the day you and your ilk left.

                      #LOL@EPLFAN

                  • The DON

                    Be a good servant like Larry and wash my feet and stir the gravy. This is family business.

                    • Larry\’s A Simpleton

                      That’s the best you can come up with? Lame. Then again, i guess you cant expect to much from dead cosmos fans.

                      #DEADCOSMOS

                    • Larry\\\’s A Simpleton

                      Slow stop trying to pose as me – it really isn’t convincing.

                    • Larry\’s A Simpleton

                      #DEADCOSMOSFANSAREBRAINDEADTWITS

                      #NOWTHATITHINKABOUTITTHEY’REBRAINDEADTWATS2

                      roflmao!

                  • slowlefttroll

                    You’re always boring and pointless. But geez, you don’t even know when to declare defeat and move on to the next trolling.

      • Master football

        Cosmos can still be in MLS but this time it will take more money, given that red bull will hold back to sell for a HUGE CHECK.
        Red bull should be around 400$ Million with facilities and stadium, not a bad deal for cosmos or a billionaire ownership group.
        The problem is, the more teams MLS adds, red bull will become more expensive to buy and will be a forever bug in the big apple.

        • The English Teacher

          Now, in grammatically correct form:

          “The Cosmos can still be in MLS, but this time it will take more money because Red Bull will hold off on selling in order to get a huge check..
          Red Bull should cost approximately $400,000,000 with the stadium and other facilities include; not a bad deal for the Cosmos or another billionaire ownership group.

          The problem here is that, as MLS adds more teams, the Red Bulls will become more expensive to buy. Thus, they may be around here forever.

          • Master football

            u need to get laid son :)
            How do I spell vagina in ur world?
            GLORY HOLE
            Take a drink and hit a strip joint :)

        • Larry\’s A Simpleton

          What makes you think the dead cosmos want any part of MLS? I mean being independent means they get to keep all the revenue those 3,ooo fans bring to the lacrosse stadium every night.

          And of course let us not forget all that money that must be rolling in off that primo tv deal with the Dish Network. No wait, the dish network kicked them to the curb.

          Where can you find dead cosmos games again? it’s hard to keep track of these nickel and dime networks.

          • Gary SHEFFIELD

            I guess Cosmos management isn’t as astute as they think they are. If they invested the $100 million to gain entry into MLS they would have more than doubled their ROI in less than 2 years.

            I guess buy gong Independent and keeping 100% the revenue pouring in from ticket sales, Television contracts and jersey sales, they’ll eventually be worth $255 million (like NYCFC)—–in about 150 years.

          • slowlefttroll

            DirecTV. Don’t you remember crapping on that story too?

            Maybe they’d should move to MLS just to upgrade the trolls they get.