The Build Out Line in US Youth Soccer: A Terrible Idea full of unintended adverse consequences

2018 July 24
by Daniel Lakeland

The US Soccer Federation has created a new set of rules for youth games. These games are played on reduced sized fields with sides of 7 players (7 on 7). The rules include a new line on the field called the "build out line" which is half-way between the top of the goalkeeper box and the midfield line. When the goalkeeper receives the ball in his hands, the rule is that play must stop, and the opponents must move out past the build-out line before the goalkeeper can re-start play. I've seen websites claiming that a quick-restart is still allowed, but the rules adopted from US Soccer by CalSouth are actually explicit that this is not allowed

"once the opposing team is behind the build out line, the goalkeeper can pass, throw or roll the ball into play (punts and drop kicks are not allowed)" (bold emphasis is mine, italics is theirs)

Now, whenever you create a rule in a game, you modify the tactics that work well in that game. The game is the rules and everything that the rules imply about what will work well to win. The point of a game is to make an honest attempt to win. If we're just trying to work out certain limited skills, it's called practice. Furthermore, the players want to do a good job at the game. The players do not want to be obliterated, nor to lose opportunities to score goals "for no reason" (ie. if the rules don't prohibit their tactic).

This new rule does several things to change the effective tactics available, all of them bad:

  1. It eliminates the role of the goalkeeper in breaking up the attack and coordinating a counterattack, forcing the keeper to wait and hold the ball until the opposing team has built up a defense rather than look for the best opportunity and method to distribute the ball. Quick and accurate distribution of the ball to the most well positioned players is one of the primary functions of the keeper in real soccer.
  2. It eliminates the threat of a long-ball by prohibiting punts and drop-kicks, allowing the defending team to push their entire team up to the build-out line to trap the ball in the back third and provide a high pressure defense that quickly turns over into offense in a dangerous area. The reason the defending team can build up to the build-out line is because they don't have to worry about a long ball. The basic concept of tactics is to tune your action to the situation. Tactically, if you think there's no long ball possibility, you can put all the players on front-line defense. The proper response to that tactic by the offense is actually ... the long ball. A game-theoretic correct response is therefore to figure out a hack around the rule prohibiting punts... Namely drop the ball to a fullback and have him punt it. Or take a "goal kick" type kick from the top of the box, neither of which are prohibited, but both of which are completely artificial.
  3. The build-out line is also used as the line past which offside can be called, allowing a team to cherry-pick goals by leaving players essentially a few yards above the top of the box, or for players to sprint ahead on breaks and receive passes well into the defending side's half without being called offside.

All of these tactics were immediately figured out as soon as this rule was put in place, as you can see in the comment section on ussoccer

For example Ryan Gilbert says:

I am a coach of U9 soccer in NJ. Firstly, congratulations on creating a entirely new game at your board meeting. Yesterday was our first game of the season and it was full of penalties and free kicks in front of goal due to this so called 'build-out line'. 30 mins of our 50 min game were actually soccer and all the goals on both teams came from attack taking advantage of the new 'build-out' rules. What a total calamity you've created, a travesty to the beautiful game

...

All the opposition needs to do is flood the build-out line and to exert maximum pressure on their defense and the ball never leaves the half way line. I don't know what game this is you've created but it's not soccer. This season is now a farce and it must be scrapped as soon as possible.
This is exactly the dynamic I witnessed at my kids soccer tournament this weekend, and which you can see repeatedly called out in other message boards and venues across the internet. Note that this "build-out" line disappears after 2 years of play (under 9 and under 10 are the only ages that have it).
The build-out line is a travesty, it's an amplifier for high pressure attacking teams as they now no longer ever need to defend a long ball, or get into any kind of defensive position, the whole game can be played in the back third of their opponents side. Nor do they really have to take accurate shots on goal. If you don't have enough support, just kick it to the goalkeeper, he'll hold it for you while you build up enough attacking strength at the build-out line... I'm not normally a user of profanity, and when I do use it I really mean it. So, in plain simple terms fuck that rule.
The dynamic that plain and simple does occur is: Whenever the opponent keeper gets the ball, the previously attacking team gets a break to set up a massive high pressure attack just outside the box, lines up like the charge of the light brigade and if 3 on 1 can't win the ball, all you really have to do is slam the ball off an opponent into touch: now you have a throw in right next to the goal and can kick the next goal... over and over.
This rule resulted in something like 12 or 15 goals against my sons' team this weekend. My son is learning tactics of the real game from a good and experienced coach, and it's making his team lose dramatically. Imagine how that makes the players feel? They're asking themselves "why are we doing so badly? what are we doing wrong? how come we can't get the ball out of our side?"
Thanks US Soccer for this "development" initiative. You certainly are developing something, possibly a steaming pile of unintended consequences?
One Response leave one →
  1. Daniel Lakeland
    July 24, 2018

    One coach's team realized that it was in fact better for their goalkeeper to simply toss the ball out the back of the goal line and give up a corner kick than to do anything else:

    (click for more comments and search for Kevin Hoffmann)

    "However, we played a REC tournament this weekend where the build-out line was "half" between box and midfield ~10 feet. Terrible rule, by the time the ball was rolled, a pressing team gave the defend maybe 1-2 seconds to react. The team that won all 3 games scored 2-3 goals per game by pressing ball out of restart. It was actually a better choice for the goalie to throw/kick the ball out of the back and give up a corner kick than a restart."

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