The first order of business for the coach is to identify players within the team who may have special qualities enabling them to strike a ball accurately in a set-piece situation. One important quality to identify is the ability to bend a ball around or over a wall. Ideally, your team would feature a left-footed and a right-footed player with the same type of capabilities. Every effort should be made to identify these players and encourage them to further develop this set of skills. Repetition is critical here, and much of it will have to be carried out in individual work away from team training. Players should be encouraged to stay after training or come out on their own and work with the aid of an artificial wall and some goalkeepers in order to get the number of repetitions and quality of practice necessary to become proficient.
It is ideal to have a good right-footed and a good left-footed player involved in each free-kick situation over the ball. This creates an unsettled picture for the goalkeeper, who might expect a bending or dipping ball from either player, freezing him in position and preventing him from anticipating the flight of the ball.
Other specialists might include skilled headers of the ball, in many cases the center backs. They also need to spend extra time outside of team practice developing their timing and confidence in finishing chances that come to them.
Taking these concepts into consideration, we have developed a set-piece alignment at USC and used it successfully for many years, creating many variations of it. The setup allows for a balanced approach with many options. See figure 11.1 for an example of this alignment.
In this alignment, the space represented by the shaded area in the diagram is critical to the selection of the proper set piece. The closer the ball is positioned to the goal, the more important it is to get a shot or a one-touch-and-hit shot off. These options include the following.