One reason so many crosses don't end up producing a scoring chance is because players too often send them in blindly. They figure that if they're on the wing, just whip the ball into the middle.
Even in the pros, you see this time after time. A player moves down the wing and launches a cross even if there are no teammates in front of the goal. If you haven't got a forward waiting for the cross, then you've got to look for other options, like turning back and looking for a midfielder.
In other instances, when teammates are moving in for a cross, the crosser hammers a ball without aiming. A cross is still a pass, and the most dangerous ones are those that fly into the path of a teammate.
A lot of coaches say, "Whip it in with pace! Whip it into the mixer." I had plenty tell me that growing up, and I could never understand it. A cross that's "whipped" usually flies at one height, it might even knuckle, and it's hard for the forward. The only chance of scoring on a cross like that is to deflect it in. That happens sometimes, but the crosses that forwards thrive on are the ones dropped into their paths.
Crossing is getting the ball to a teammate or finding a space the players are moving into. It's not hammering a ball across the field and hoping for the best.
Look at David Beckham. In England, TV commentators like to say he whips his crosses in. He might, every once in a while, whip one in, but if you watch him closely you'll notice that on the majority of his passes he looks for a teammate. Then he lofts the ball so it curves into the space his teammate is moving into.
When we did crossing drills at Glasgow Rangers with Coach Dick Advocaat, he always emphasized technique over speed. He wanted us to "measure" the crosses. He wanted the crossers to concentrate on getting their balls to arrive at just the right time to meet the forward.
When you whip a ball in, it might arrive a half-second earlier, but it's more difficult to deal with than with a measured ball that's curling away from the goal so the attackers can climb for it. Timing is crucial for the crosser and the players making their runs in the middle.
A good rule of thumb when you're running toward the goal in hopes of meeting a cross is better late than early. If you run by the ball, you've got no chance of going back and attacking the ball again. But it's possible to make up ground when you're running forward.
The best place to send your cross is the zone between the edge of the goal area - six yards from the goal line - and the penalty spot. That's far enough from the goalkeeper and close enough for a scoring chance. Of course, success depends on good technique, and that's just a matter of practicing the striking of the ball, which no player can do enough of.
(Excerpted from "More Than Goals: The Journey from Backyard Games to World Cup Competition" by Claudio Reyna with Mike Woitalla courtesy of Human Kinetics.)
New York Red Bulls captain Claudio Reyna played nearly 13 years in the top-tier leagues of Germany (Bayer Leverkusen, VfL Wolfsburg), Scotland (Glasgow Rangers) and England (Sunderland, Manchester City) before returning to his native New Jersey this year to play in Major League Soccer. He represented the USA in four World Cups, and captained the Americans to a quarterfinal run at the 2002 World Cup, where he became the first American selected to the FIFA World Cup all-star team.