It’s been a minute. If you’re receiving this email, it’s because at some point you signed up for a soccer newsletter called space space space. That project ended a couple years ago when I got hired as a senior (association) football writer for The Athletic. Maybe you’re a longtime reader who remembers this, or maybe this is the first email you’re getting from me. Either way, hey, what’s up.
I’m starting a new soccer newsletter to help people keep up with my work. I know it’s not always easy to find the articles you want on The Athletic’s app, and social media is — well, you know how it is. I deleted my Twitter not long ago. It feels amazing. If you still want to read what I write, here’s an easy way to get it in your inbox, just like in the good old days:
johnspacemuller.substack.com ← (subscribe here)
You’ll get a link and a short excerpt when a new article of mine goes up on The Athletic. That’s pretty much it. Maybe sometimes I’ll include other soccer things I’m reading or thinking about. The newsletter is free and entirely opt-in — if you don’t want to be on the mailing list, just ignore this email.
But I hope you’ll subscribe, because I want to write for people who want to read it. I’ve done some stuff I’m proud of recently, like this week’s long reported piece on what Lionel Messi means to America:
It’s not that I expect to actually bump into him. He’s probably at the training ground nutmegging icebergs or whatever. What I want to find is any kind of evidence that the city is accepting him as its own, that he’s more to Miami than just the pink guy on TV or a multiplier cell in a spreadsheet. I guess I’m still hoping Messi might mean something to America.
At first, the search takes the most boringly literal approach: counting soccer shirts. Maybe it’s just because all the stores are sold out, but there are hardly any shirts to count. The morning after his debut, two boys in Miami’s black-and-pink La Noche kits are kicking a ball on the beach and shouting in what sounds like Russian. Then, for days, nothing.
I head for the nearest Adidas store, figuring I might have more luck there. All I see are two men standing outside the store, snapping pictures of its pink facade. I ask where they’re from. They tell me to guess. They’re wearing bucket hats with socks and sandals. Too easy. Germany. “That’s right,” they admit.
I’ve also started a new space space space-type series called How Football Works. So far we’ve talked about wall passes and pressing triggers, third-man combinations in the double pivot, and most recently cutting the pitch in half:
It’s often said that a presser who closes down the ball from one side has “cut the pitch in half” because the player on the ball has no choice but to pass in the other direction. The nearer the presser can get to the ball, the more space they block off behind them (in the inaccessible area known as their “cover shadow”). And if they come at the ball sideways, the area they block off will all be on one side of the pitch.
Typically, this happens when the ball is with the goalkeeper and there’s no option to play backwards. Throw in an offside trap somewhere around the halfway line and a high press that succeeds in cutting the pitch in half really only has to contest the ball in a quarter of it — still a few basketball courts’ worth of grass, but not a job that will take 11 Giannis Antetokounmpo-level freaks to cover.
Anyway, subscribe to the new newsletter if you want to get more of this stuff, maybe tell some friends about it, and then throw your phone in a woodchipper and go have a great weekend.
Image: Ed Ruscha, Burning Gas Station
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