By Claudio Reyna
The corner kick is an incredible opportunity to score, and it's something players can practice on their own, because unlike a cross that you're hitting during the run of play, the corner kick is always taken from the same distance, give or take the few yards by which the width of fields varies from stadium to stadium.
Especially the day before a game, I make sure to take several corner kicks after practice to get into a rhythm.
Good corner kicks are very difficult for a goalkeeper to defend, if they're delivered where they present the greatest danger, which I think is at the edge of the goal area.
A ball with a lot of pace that comes in six or seven yards from the goal puts the goalkeeper in a quandary. He must decide whether he should leave his goal unprotected and try to grab it amid the crowd of attackers and defenders, or to rely on his teammates and prepare for a close-range header or shot on goal.
There are coaches who choreograph their attackers' moves on the corner kick. The taker signals a play, and the attackers make their planned runs, expecting the ball to arrive in a predetermined spot.
At the lower levels, plays can work because it's easier to lose your marker. But usually plays only seem to complicate matters without giving the attacking team an edge. Higher-level players have seen it all. And they know how to deal with picks.
And at a high level there's a lot of scouting, and plays don't surprise many teams. What's the point of working on a play forever when it becomes useless as soon as someone sees it? Besides, if the ball isn't hit well, nothing else matters.
Bottom line, there are key areas into which the attackers will be running, and the taker's main objective is to strike the ball well. His job is to put the ball into the danger zone. The guys on the receiving end are charged with darting around and losing their markers.
A quick little movement can be enough to evade a marker. The attackers who create a nightmare for defenders are the ones who are constantly on their toes, zig-zagging around to keep their defenders guessing. A lot of movement is crucial.
The only planning that really needs to go into corner kicks is ensuring that at least the three key zones are manned by attackers when the ball arrives. The near post, the middle, and the far post.
The first thing I'm concentrating on when I line up at the corner flag is to clear the first defender. There are few things more frustrating than watching a corner kick -- basically a gifted scoring opportunity -- end at the first defender before you've given your teammates a chance at it.
Basically, if I get it over the first defender, then I've done my job. After that, it all comes down to the timing of my teammates. I'm aiming into the zones where I expect them to come crashing in.
In the best-case scenario, a forward meets the ball for a header. But corner kicks also create fluke goals because of the chaos that comes when a ball soars so close to the goal. A sharply hit ball can create an own goal.
If the ball comes down by the near post, there's a chance that it can be flicked on to the attacker at the far post. If the ball is overhit, a teammate on the far post should be able to knock it into the goalmouth.
The worst corner kicks are when the taker is tentative and underhits it, and a defender cuts it off. If you're going to err, err in overhitting. An underhit corner kick can launch an opponent's counterattack.
Ask any goalkeeper what he would prefer, and he'll say it's the corner kick that comes in short and is cleared before it reaches the goal area. If the corner kick flies over everyone, it might still be headed back into the danger zone by a teammate at the far post.
A perfect corner kick dips just before it reaches the header. Without an arc on it, defenders have a better chance to get to it before it reaches an attacker.
Teams have to decide whether they want their corner kicks to swing in or swing out. The advantage of the in-swinger is that the curve on the ball enables the player heading it to guide it toward the goal. He's exploiting the momentum the ball already has. It's harder to head the out-swinger, because the player has to get more power on it. And it's easier for the defender to attack the out-swinging ball.
(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.