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Marcelo Balboa on Slide Tackling

December 31, 2003 09:00 PM
Marcelo Balboa, a long-time veteran of the United States National Team currently with the Colorado Rapids of MLS, offers his advice on slide-tackling.
1. Watch The Ball
When an attacker is running at you with the ball, it's difficult not to concentrate on his body movements. Doing so, however, could cost you a tackle.
More than a few flashy forwards have juked a defender out of his socks while only nominally touching the ball. Such situations, however, can be avoided by keeping your eyes on the ball. "If someone is trying to dribble by you and he's coming right at you, you've got to watch the ball," says Balboa. "No matter where the attacker's body moves -- he can go right, he can go left -- the ball always sits still."
2. Don't Tackle Unless It's Necessary
The best place for a defender to be is on his feet, not on the ground, and so one should resist the temptation to leap at an opponent's ankles any time the opportunity presents itself. It's better to contain the forward and prevent him from penetrating. You should also try to work with your fellow defenders to close off the attack without direct confrontation.
If you are the last line of defense -- as Balboa usually is -- it is particularly important to remain upright. If your slide-tackle fails, your opponent's path to the goal will be clear.
"Any time you dive in, there's a chance of you getting beat," Balboa says. "Even if you do dive in and get the ball, it can always bounce or deflect off the guy and get by you."
3. Wait For Your Opponent To Separate From The Ball
As long as your opponent has the ball at his feet, he's in control and a slide-tackle could be suicidal. Wait for him to knock it ahead two or three feet -- if you are fairly close by -- before diving at his feet.
"If you tackle when it's at his feet," Balboa says, "he can knock it away from you or dribble by you. When he separates from the ball, then you cut in front of him without tackling. And that's perfect because you can keep playing. If you need to tackle, wait for him to separate from the ball, then hook him."
Timing is the crucial ingredient, both for safety and effectiveness. But the quality of the timing is elusive.
"The most important thing is to get your timing down," says Balboa. "If you don't have the right timing, your opponent is going to run right by you, and you might end up with a card."
Developing timing requires constant practice, but because training sessions rarely emphasize tackling, games offer the best training ground.
"Kids always want to practice slide-tackling, but it is not really something you can do in practice," Balboa says. "The more you play, the better you'll get at it."
4. Be Decisive
Mentality is important, especially at the highest level where the difference between success and failure can be confidence. Players can't hesitate, or they'll be beaten.
"When you decide to go down, you have to go down," he says. "You can't think twice about it. If you go into a tackle halfway, you can get hurt. Decide 100 percent that you are going, then go."
Knowing when to go requires instinct built through experience, and it requires the ability to read the game.
5. Attack From An Angle
It is possible to slide-tackle an opponent from behind or from the front. But the risks -- fouls, cards, expulsion -- are great. The best tackles come from an angle. Coming in at a angle also allows the defender to strip an opponent from the ball without tackling.
While racing alongside an opponent, wait for him to separate from the ball. Then step into his path, between him and the ball.
"Step right into his line," says Balboa. "Now you've got the ball, and you can shield it. Chances are, he'll trip you or foul you because you've cut him off."
Tackling from behind, an inexact science which soccer officials are intent on banning, isn't recommended.
"For every clean tackle from behind, there are four bad ones," Balboa says. "You always seem to clip the guy, catch an ankle or something. You might get away with one clean tackle, but many times you are going to foul the guy, and you might seriously hurt him. That's why they are trying to stop it."
"If I'm tackling from behind, I'm screwed because I'm the sweeper. I try not to get myself in that situation."
Slide-tackling from the front, with both feet, is another matter, and one referees rarely smile upon.
"Straight-on, you're going to get the ball first, but obviously you're trying to hurt the guy if you're going in with both feet straight on. That's why referees don't like straight-on tackling. Even if you get the ball, they usually call a foul."
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