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Ohio State Men's Coach John Bluem to Teach Zonal Penetration Games at 2013 NSCAA Convention

By Dean Linke, @VoiceofNSCAA

It’s a big save from Ohio State goalkeeper Casey Latchem … Latchem immediately drops it at the top of his box to All Big Ten central defender Eric Brunner … Brunner keeps it on the carpet and gets it from the Buckeye defensive zone out wide in the midfield to Roger Espinoza … Espinoza, with explosiveness, tucks inside and runs directly at the Northwestern midfield … Right behind Espinoza comes Brunner, straight up from the back, as Espinoza blows by the midfield and draws in the Wildcat central defenders … As the defenders collapse on Espinoza, Big Ten Player of the Year Xavier Balc finds a seam … Balc is open … Espinoza dishes to Balc and keeps his run toward the far post … Balc delivers the diagonal ball on a dime right back to Espinoza … Espinoza fires across the frame of the goal … and the Buckeyes score … Espinoza with the goal and how about the Ohio State Buckeyes!

If you followed the 2007 Ohio State men’s soccer team, led by NSCAA national staff coach John Bluem, this play-by-play might sound pretty familiar. It was the year the Buckeyes went on a memorable run, winning the Big Ten Tournament and advancing all the way to the College Cup final against Wake Forest.

“That was an unbelievable year with some very special players,” Bluem said, who in 15 years at the helm of the Buckeye program has led it to four Big Ten titles and all eight of Ohio State's appearances in the NCAA tournament, including four in the last five years.

“Espinoza has gone on to play in a World Cup for Honduras and is getting ready to sign a big contract overseas after several great years with Sporting KC,” Bluem said. “Brunner is still playing in Major League Soccer with Portland. Latchem remains in the record books for Buckeye goalkeepers and Balc is one of truest goal scorers to ever play for Ohio State.”

However, much greater than their individual accomplishments, Bluem points out, is that the aforementioned play-by-play truly exemplifies the impact of zonal penetration and how it can break down a defense.

“You start in the back, the goalkeeper (Latchem) distributes quickly in his defensive third,” Bluem explains.  “(Brunner) finds an open midfielder as the numbers are a little uneven.  Either Bruner or an outside back can move into the midfield to again offset numbers. (Espinoza) attacks the center of midfield knowing that a defender is coming up behind him to continue to unbalance the opposition. (Balc) finds a seam in the attacking third as the defenders are forced to collapse on the surging Espinoza. Our defender is also continuing to come forward. Espinoza finds the seam, never stops his run and the number advantage stays true all the way up the field, from the defensive zone, to the midfield zone, to the attacking zone, to the goal.  

“That’s how we want to play and that’s what I plan to teach at the 2013 NSCAA Convention.”

And while Bluem won’t have Latchem, Brunner, Espinoza and Balc in Indianapolis, he will lead a Thursday, Jan. 17 session, appropriately titled “Zonal Penetration Games for Advanced Players.”

[+] Download Bluem's Pentration Exercises here


“They are not complicated exercises. I think the session is applicable to any coach from level U-14 all the way to the pros.”

Bluem said that the exercises will be aimed at improving your teams attack through a more indirect style. The session will convey how to bring numbers from behind to create a numerical advantage.

Another key part of the exercise Bluem emphasized is that the attacking team is forced to reorganize defensively as it moves up the field. The demonstration will end with an 8 vs. 8 game, plus goalkeepers.

“There are no secrets in the game,” Bluem said. “NSCAA coaches share and borrow information all the time. If I can help a younger coach get some new ideas and help the game grow, then we are all doing our part to help soccer in America become better and stronger.

“I have always been impressed by the work of the staff coaches like Timo Liekoski and Bob Gansler and so many others at the Convention. Now it’s my turn.”

You can see how Bluem does it Thursday, Jan. 17, at 3:45 p.m.

Additional Sessions by 2013 Convention Clinicians

Goalkeeper sessions by Tony DiCicco

Notre Dame's Waldrum to share secrets of high-powered offense

"The Game is the Best Teacher:" Snow will focus on 4x4 Exercises for Youth Players