by Erik Imler

I am currently working on a project in which I was connecting with teammates of mine from way back in the day. The conversations with Chris Henderson (current Sporting Director with 2016 MLS Champion Seattle Sounders) and Troy Dayak (Executive Coaching Director with West Coast Soccer Club) were the inspirations for this post.

Much dialogue is devoted to tactics and style of play – passing the ball out of the back in build up, changing the point of attack through midfield, wide play in the attack. Or the effectiveness of early crosses, shooting from distance, third man running.

But at the end of the day, a game is typically won or lost by the team who wins more of their 1v1 battles over the course of the 90 minutes.

“The most Neanderthal demi-glace of it all is the one-versus-one battle. You have to win the mono y mono match-up.” – Troy Dayak

Both Chris Henderson and Troy Dayak look back with fond memories of their playing days and identify these duels as having a profound effect on their development.  For Chris, it was going 1v1 in tight spaces trying to score on un-contested small goals.


As for Troy, he enjoyed duels covering bigger distances.  When I say bigger, I’m referring to full field 1v1 competitions – then having to beat a GK at either end.

As the stories continued, not just any GK’s at either end…  imagine having to beat your defender, cover over 100 yards on a sprint with the ball then face either Kasey Keller (former Leicester City, Rayo Vallecano, Tottenham, Borussia Monchengladbach, Fulham, Seattle Sounders) at one end or Brad Friedel (former Galatasaray, Columbus Crew, Liverpool, Blackburn, Aston Villa, Tottenham) at the other.

All in a day’s work, I suppose.

About Erik Imler

A Retired Professional Player, NCAA Champion (1989,1991,1992), and 1992 U.S. Olympic Team (Barcelona, Spain)who is dis-satisfied with the status quo of youth soccer development in the United States and motivated to create a youth program that addresses the most prominent technical deficiencies in many youth players - passing & receiving.

  • Nice article and I am right there with you in being dissatisfied with youth development in our country. I’d be interested in learning more about how you are tackling this topic.

  • Great idea! Passing and receiving are key! 1v1 matchup could not be more spot on as well!

  • Erik,

    I am curious if you have a point to this article? Do you perhaps think US youth soccer is not (currently) producing an abundance of players confident in 1v1 situations?

    I am curious as to whether the emphasis on outcomes in US youth soccer under-emphasizes the value of a confident 1v1 mentality; both in coaches and players?

    Coaches may not provide volume and consistency of 1v1 training for players? Emphasizing instead, for example, passing and receiving technical training and possession oriented tactical training – especially for younger age groups (Golden Age of Learning band) since this emphasis makes them look smarter in front of parents and minimizes the risks of having players try to use 1v1 in less than ideal locations/circumstances in games – resulting perhaps in undesirable outcomes?

    Players may not devote time and effort to excel in 1v1 because they likely don’t recognize the value since in games they are to told over and over to “pass and move” in order to penetrate and break down defenses (instead of additionally have the skill to do it on the dribble). And any time they do elect to elect to execute 1v1 they hear it (“don’t be selfish – pass the ball!) from the sidelines (or worse in the car on the way home).

    Personally, as a coach of competitive players in the Golden Age of Learning band, I do emphasize the value of 1v1 skills (heavily) and feature 1v1 training opportunities for my players in nearly every training session. While some of my peers laud (and yes even question) my devotion (perhaps over devotion?) to this important skill, my players seem to enjoy the time and skills they learn; and in games, where it counts, they seem to exude the confidence to maintain ball control in tight spaces and taking opponents on 1v1. Yes they make mistakes. Yes the risk is great. But if they don’t get the chance to learn and fail early, when will they?

    Anyway, thank you for your thoughts on such an important topic. Keep up the great work. Love your blog.


    • Chris,
      Thanks for the reply. I have found huge benefits from focusing my time with U9 and U10 players with the understanding of managing space and recognizing when it’s “ON” to play forwards and when it’s not. Our groups made great progress this past year and really play attractive soccer as time went on. Still though, because our kids don’t play on their own enough, I am challenged with trying to squeeze what is necessary into limited time. Therefore, this upcoming season I plan to place a stronger emphasis on 1v1 training games. Other aspects of development will suffer, but perhaps going 1v1 on a more consistent basis will develop more individual confidence in our young players.

      Time will tell.

  • I do agree.

    These past few months have been spent going to tryouts. My son is in the U12 level (based on the new US soccer age matrix) and tried several clubs. One was with an MLS club tryout. For this MLS club, the first day was devoted solely to 1v1. The 2nd day was devoted to 2v2. Two other club tryouts also emphasized 1v1, 2v2, & 4v4 in their tryouts. What I was told from these clubs (including the MLS club) is that 1v1 is part of their training plan. What I do not know is what percentage. So maybe there is a push to include into the training structure. Or this could be local to my area.


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