August 27, 2012
The never-ending race between fleet feet and speed of thought
By Michael Lewis
Dane Richards has been blessed with incredible speed.
Linda Cuttone/Sports Vue Images
Today's column is about speed and speed reading, not necessarily getting through this piece quickly, but it is about how speed can help a player and a team, with one's feet and with one's mind.
After six years of playing in Major League Soccer, Jamaican international and former Red Bulls midfielder Dane Richards finally will get an opportunity to strut his stuff in Europe as he agreed to a contract with Burnley of the English Championship (the second tier of soccer in the country).
Quite frankly, I had expected Richards to make his move to Europe after last season, when the going was great and he was hot. After all, he was coming off a fabulous season and a third in which he had collected seven goals and seven assists in 2011 after finishing the 2010 season with a flourish.
He was playing well and at a high level and with confidence.
This year has not been the same. His decision making turned dubious, back to the 2009 and start of the 2010 seasons, and his production fell off.
As dangerous as Richards can be, there certainly are flaws to his game. When he is not on, Richards has been known to make questionable decisions as to when to take on a man down the right wing or call to the goal, or when to cross the ball into the middle of the penalty area.
When he is on, he is one dangerous player
But Richards' speed certainly made many an opponent respect if not fear him.
As of January, Richards should face challenges more in practice. Perhaps his coach and team will be able to get the most out of him so he can reach his potential (I have known Richards since he was drafted by the 2007. He is a good person and I wish him well in his new endeavor).
The Red Bulls, realizing that Richards could walk after this season, decided to sent him to the Vancouver Whitecaps for midfielder-forward Sebastien Le Toux, who has enjoyed success traumatizing defenders and goalkeepers. Le Toux is quite efficient technically and can play midfielder or forward (even as the lone striker, where Richards could not), but he lacks of the pace of the Jamaican speedster.
One man's strengths is another's weakness and vice versa.
Actually, there are two types of speeds in soccer -- one with the feet, the other with the brain.
Speed of thought can make up for not being fleet with your feet.
Ultimate case in point: Franz Beckenbauer probably would never beat many players in a race (and don't get me wrong, he wasn't slow by any means), but his super computer in his head allowed him to read the game at light speeds not many players have been blessed with. Beckenbauer usually the perfect pass about 99 percent of the time.
While the Red Bulls have a number of technically efficient players, not many will win many races.
The Red Bulls, however, did not display enough on the technical side in their 1-1 road draw with Sporting Kansas City on Sunday. They seemed to give the ball away just about every time they obtained possession. That limited their shots -- quality and quantity (they did not place one shot on net, but managed to walk out of Livestrong Sporting Park with a goal, via an own goal. So much for compensating with a so-called strength.
What I am concerned about is that the team's lack of speed will hurt them down the line; not necessarily the regular season, in which they have managed to accrued points, but in the playoffs, where there is a much shorter season.
Speed works on both sides of the ball. While on attack, one way would be a quick counter. While defending, it is the ability to get back and get into position to deny the opposition a goal.
We have seen this played out so many times in the modern game.
As well-seasoned New York/New Jersey soccer fans have learned over the past 16-plus years, playoffs are the time in which your greatest hopes and everything you have accomplished can go out the window in a nano-second. And with home-and-away, aggregate goal series, time can be quite fleeting when you are not fleet with your feet.
Over the next several months, we'll find out if the Red Bulls can compensate their lack of pace with the speed of thought and other God-given abilities.