US teams tailored tactics around Kerr

Former adversaries aren’t surprised that Matildas star Sam Kerr has been crowned the Asian player of the year, having had to base their tactics solely around the threat of the nimble striker for years.
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Western Sydney Wanderers’ midfielder Lo’eau LaBonta spent two seasons playing against the Australian forward in the US National Women’s Soccer League and revealed her team’s game plan would always change whenever it faced Kerr.

LaBonta joined Sky Blue FC in 2015 but parted ways just before Kerr moved to the club, meaning they narrowly crossed paths at the New Jersey side. The American youth international then spent two seasons at FC Kansas City where the Australian forward became one of the most difficult opponents her team would face.

She said it was common knowledge throughout US women’s soccer that teams’ tactics and defensive set-up would be tailored around the threat of a then 22-year-old Kerr and Kansas City was no different. For each game against Kerr’s Sky Blue FC, Kansas would deploy two defenders on the Matildas forward with the sole task of marking her for the entire game.

“I just know that we were always watching her. I know with a lot of teams, their game plans are based around Sam Kerr. You always have to watch for her,” LaBonta said.

Even if that was successful in nullifying Kerr’s threat, LaBonta said that would still pose other problems.

“You always want to have someone on her and have another player close. The great thing about her upfront is she does a lot of the work and they forget about the other forward around her. She creates so much space for others, a lot of teams tend to focus a lot on her,” she said.

Kerr finished last season as the top-scorer in the NWSL with 17 goals and moved to the all-time leading goal-scorer in the competition’s five-year history. Combined with her 11 goals in internationals, her club form in the US and her impressive start to the W-League season made her one of the hottest properties in world football.

At a ceremony in Thailand on Wednesday, Kerr was crowned Asia’s best player, providing some comfort after narrowly missing out on the final three-player shortlist for the world player of the year and LaBonta isn’t surprised having experience her progress first-hand in recent years.

“She’s been improving so much as a player since I first saw her play a couple of years ago. She’s improved so much, she’s really established herself not just here but in the States as well and internationally. She’s gotten overseas prestigious recognition, she’s crushing it. Now she’s doing so well, it brings so much attention to not only her, the league but women’s soccer in general,” LaBonta said.

Kerr will travel from Bangkok to Sydney to play for Perth Glory against Western Sydney on Friday afternoon at Marconi Stadium. The Wanderers aren’t expecting jet lag or fatigue to diminish the threat of Kerr and her clinical striker partner Rachel Hill, who collectively have scored 11 goals this season.

“We have to be just very strict in our defending and focusing on our shape and not leaving them on their own. Hopefully we keep the ball on them. The game plan is to keep the ball so we don’t have to defend,” LaBonta said.

“You always have to keep your eye on her and her finishing, you just saw the finish she had the other day in their international competition but it’s just top of the class.”

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