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Over 200 Attend Albert Puig Coaching Course

LIVERMORE — Two years after his extremely popular FC Barcelona Positional Play Level 1 Course, former Barcelona Youth Technical Director Albert Puig instructed over 200 participants in the Level 2 course, which featured many of the nuances that has helped make the legendary club one of the best in the world at producing talent.

Over a two-day period at Las Positas College, the UEFA Pro license coach passed on his many years of wisdom of working at the top levels of the game to the many eager NorCal Premier Soccer coaches on hand.

The course began early Saturday with some of the same lessons taught two years ago for those who didn’t attend the 2016 edition, and continued with several field sessions and lectures focusing on the positional play aspect of the game that has revolutionized the methodology of soccer training across the world.

So highly-regarded was the course that several participants travelled cross-country to attend, including Chicago Fire U17 coach Nate Boyden, current and former members of the Colorado Rapids youth set up, and the entire Navy coaching staff.

“Being a NorCal native, I know the people and the ideas behind the soccer out here. I thought it would be a really great opportunity to take part in their coaching education,” Boyden said. “I was out here for the first positional play course that Albert put on and it was incredible powerful. It was something I could take right to the field and implement. I’ve been running with those ideas ever since.”

Added Colorado Rapids youth coach Antti Ronkanen: “I know Albert Puig by reputation and I consider myself a student of the positional game, so for me it was a no-brainer. (It was) fantastic, the best coaching education so far that I’ve received.”

With an assist from the Force 2004 boys team, Puig led four field sessions over the two days to demonstrate his teachings.

The thesis of Puig’s lectures stressed the importance of making each and every training session game-related — what’s the point of practicing in a way that you aren’t going to play in matches?

“It’s difficult to improve with only one player because soccer is a (team sport),” Puig said during his Sunday afternoon classroom session. “When you work on your skills alone, it’s outside of team soccer. Because of that, I like exercises that are realistic for a soccer game.”

According to Puig, a minimum of six players is ideal to create any session that is relatable to gameplay, even for just simple rondos.

Puig also spoke about the larger state of US Soccer, including the US Men’s National Team’s failure to qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia.

“The potential for players in the United States is great, but there are other factors (holding it back). In my opinion the country doesn’t want it,” he said before adding that if the correct measures were put in place, the USMNT could be a top national side in the world in just 10 years.

“We have a problem in the United States with player selection,” Puig said. “We don’t know where the talent is.”

Puig also used examples from current and past Barcelona teams as to how the squad has reached such lofty heights despite lacking the athleticism that’s abundant in the United States.

“Xavi, in his life, has never won a race. He’s not fast. Busquets isn’t fast either. But they are some of the best players in the world because their minds are fast,” he said. “The ball always goes faster than the player. It’s easy to understand, but some players don’t understand and you must repeat it every time.”

For former Colorado Rapids youth coach Tolya Rubtsov, Puig’s emphasis on passing breaking the defensive lines — to take out multiple defenders with one pass — was key to the sessions from the weekend.

“You always look to break lines, Albert was repeating it religiously,” Rubtsov said. “The pass needs to have a purpose and the main purpose when you play that is to break lines and have direction to the game and move forward towards the game to score. I encourage everyone to come to these seminars because I think NorCal did a fantastic job and it’s a unique opportunity in America to have those kinds of experts in positional play.”

From there, the course finished up with Puig answering a multitude of questions from the audience in order to give an even greater perspective of the game, with one in particular garnering major attention from the community.

“Based on the culture here with youth players being developed for the college level, do you think clubs adopting first teams would be an important addition to the game in this country?” someone from the course asked.

Puig’s response was telling, especially given NorCal’s recent initiative to expand the adult side of the game.

“No. For college, you don’t need to play first team, you need good grades,” Puig said. “For the country, yes. If you want to improve you need to create leagues. Leagues down and up — promotion and relegation. In MLS you’re in last, but you still get money and the owner is happy and the coach goes on for many years. But in Europe, if you finish last, the coach and sporting director lose their jobs.”