Soccer sees set pieces as secret to success

By Jacob Onak & Ed Reitveld

Whether it’s a corner kick or a free kick, set pieces are vital in soccer. Earning a free kick can give relief to a team that’s being put under a lot of pressure, or it can be used to score a much-needed goal against the run of play.

So far this season NIU’s women’s team has capitalized on four of its corner kicks. Senior mid-fielder/forward Shelbi Johnson, who takes corners for the Huskies, said she looks for one thing when taking a corner kick.

“It depends on what play is called, but regardless I am aiming for one of our players heads,” Johnson said. “I typically pick out a player and I try and get the ball that I’m serving directly onto their head to where they don’t have to do any work with it. They can just let it hit off their head and go in.”

Corner kicks do not always get served into the box. There is something called a short corner kick.

“We will typically do a short corner,” Johnson said. “A lot of times you’ll see us start with two [players] on the ball in the corner and if they only send one of their players out then we’ll play a short corner, because that gives us an advantage of a two on one. We might be able to get closer to the box and have a shooting opportunity or be able to play a better ball from a closer distance to somebody’s head.”

Junior defender Courtney Ksiazek, who takes the free kicks for NIU, said she has one objective when taking a free kick.

“The biggest thing is to be effective and to give the other players the best scoring opportunity possible,” Ksiazek said. “Obviously, in a perfect world you’d want to score directly off them, but when that’s not the case, or not possible you want to give the best chance of putting it in the back of the net.”

Ksiazek said it takes some time to get used to shooting around the wall of defenders.

“A lot of practice is needed,” Ksaizek said. “But you want to be sure that you’re striking it with enough pace that it can get where it needs to. Power isn’t everything but that plays a big role in how you hit the ball.”

Set piece defense is vital. A game can change with a well-placed free kick or a goal off of a corner kick.

Traditionally, there are two ways of defending a set piece. There is man-to-man defense, or a zone defense. Man-to-man is simple; one player marks another, making sure that they do not get a clean strike on the ball.

In zone defense, players line up in front of the goal (on corners its usually on the 6-yard box), and defend the area opposed to the man.

Currently most teams play a hybrid of this style, coach Eric Luzzi and the men’s soccer team is no different.

“For 90 percent of the teams in the world it’s a combination,” Luzzi said. “There are parts of the box that most teams defend in zone and then there are guys who are tracking runners so that’s generally what we do as well.”

Individual match-ups are vital in set piece defense. If you lose your mark, good teams make you pay. Senior defender Rocco Taglia said it takes more than skill to defend a set piece.

“Its all about heart,” Taglia said. “You can be one of the smallest kids on the field, you just want to get the ball. You find the ball and you find a way to get it out. It’s something that you just have to have heart, desire, and pride to want to win the ball.”