Columbus Crew's Defensive Speed Work

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Soccer is more than just fancy footwork, exciting goals and a good-looking Englishman. Games are won or lost in the defensive battles.

Columbus Crew S+C coach Steve Tashjian says, "We require the whole team to close space defensively, and very quickly. We defend as a team, with all 11 players."

A key to playing effective defense is speed, as "it limits the time the opposing team has control of the ball," Tashjian says. "[Speed] allows the defense to make a challenge and create a counterattack."

Here are a few exercises the Columbus Crew use once a week in-season to maintain speed on the pitch.

Benefits of Routine: Builds core strength and the total-body balance required to play a physical defense // Simulates game-like situations // Works on first-step reaction time

Bull Rush
• Stand face-to-face with partner, each holding firmly onto other's shoulders
• One athlete pushes; other gets pushed
• Athlete pushing: drive partner back 10 meters; Athlete being driven: challenge partner with adequate resistance
• Switch roles
• Perform 4 reps in each position

Tashjian's Tips: Keep a low center of gravity to better position yourself to drive partner back // Use short, choppy, narrow steps when pushing // Do not resist so much that you stop the movement

Hurdle Jumps
• Set up three six- to 12-inch hurdles, each one meter apart; place cone five to eight meters from last hurdle
• Quickly jump over each hurdle with both feet, hip-width apart
• Accelerate to cone after you clear last hurdle
• Progress to lateral jumps over hurdles; then progress to single-leg hops, both forward, laterally, and left if you're on right leg and right if you're on left leg
• Perform 2 sets of each variation with each leg

Tashjian's Tips: Do not focus on the height of your jump; instead, concentrate on getting your feet up and down as quickly as possible // Run through the cone

Annoying Sprints
• Set up two cones 10 meters apart
• Stand at one cone with partner who's similar in size and speed
• Coach, who's standing at opposite end, signals players to sprint toward him
• As you both run to coach, push and pull at each other, trying to throw each other off balance
• Coach kicks or throws ball 30 meters away, over players' heads, as they approach him
• Players turn and race for ball, pushing and pulling to try to gain advantage
• First player to ball receives point; play to four points to win set
• Perform 1 to 3 sets

Tashjian's Tips: Play aggressively, but not dangerously // Keep your body low and eyes focused on the ball

Back Diagonal Runs
•    Stand at midfield facing instructor with back to goal
•    As instructor's hand points up, begin back pedaling at max speed
•    When instructor drops hand to the right, back pedal 45-degrees to the right
•    When instructor drops hand to the left, back pedal 45-degrees to the left
•    When instructor pulls hand to chest, accelerate forward
•    Instructor should randomly switch hand positions 6 times
•    When instructor yells go, to finish, turn and sprint to the end line

Tashjian's Tips: Keep eyes focused on instructor at all times // For speed endurance purposes utilize a 1:4 work to rest ratio// For anaerobic purposes utilize 1:1 work to rest ratio// Emphasize the speed at which the players rotate their hips

4 V 1's

•    Lay out 4 cones in a square, no larger than 8x8 meters
•    Place one offensive player on each corner with a defensive player in the middle of the square
•    Offensive players pass ball quickly around the square with one touch passing
•    Defender chases the ball as quickly as possible but is not allowed to tackle or steal the ball
•    After 10-15 seconds of work, offensive players play the ball outside of the square
•    Defender turns and accelerates to the ball, quickly returning the ball to the grid
•    Switch out defender with offensive player and continue
•    6-10 reps each

Tashjian's Tips: Defenders should be in low athletic stance, eyes focused on the ball// Rotate hips, move feet, and never turn your back on the ball// Lower your center of gravity when chasing the ball and close in on the ball quickly with control//Keep the ball moving quickly and make passing patterns unpredictable

Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock