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Playing from Behind: Tactical Keys for a Late-Game Comeback

May 14, 2014    6291 Views

By TJ Buchanan | @usltjbuchanan

Playing from Behind: Tactical Keys for a Late-Game Comeback

John Strohsacker

Okay, coach. Here’s the situation.

The score is 15-13. Your team is down by two goals with five minutes left in the game. You have possession of the ball, just took a timeout and have one timeout left. You need three goals to win the game.

What adjustments do you make to give your team the best chances of winning this game? Do you make any? Here are some thoughts on what you might consider. I welcome your ideas, so please feel free to share in the comments section below.


Do you go zone or man?

On one hand, zone defense is going to protect the inside and only allow your opponent to take long-range shots. Conversely, the zone can allow your opponent to run out the clock on you by not attacking the goal and just passing the ball around the perimeter.

I would stick with man-to-man defense. During the timeout, I would encourage earlier sliding and silent double-teams when the ball carrier’s back is turned towards the middle of the field. This gives you the best chance of getting the ball back because of a bad shot or a caused turnover. You also might consider shutting off a particular player on their offense, or the location on the field from where the opponent likes to shoot, regardless of which offensive player occupies it.

Do you pull the goalie?

Do you pull the goalie to either shut off a player or double-team the ball? YES—with some caveats. It has to be less than three minutes remaining in the game, the opponent is holding the ball to run out the clock, the ball is behind the goal, and you’re down more than two goals. If you’re only down one goal or the ball comes back in front of the goal, I like to keep the goalie in and use high-pressure defense on the ball. The empty-net goal can devastate your team when they’re only down one with 45 seconds remaining and the opponent goes up by two.


Which play or set do you run?

Now is not the time to draw up a play on the whiteboard that you have never practiced before. The chances of it succeeding are slim-to-none and most likely it will result in a turnover. Stick with what the kids know and what they have been successful with the entire game. Hey, they’ve scored 13 goals. The offense can be that bad, right?

One offense I like to have in my pocket for situations like this is some kind of open set, to spread the defense out as far as possible and try to create 1-on-1 match-ups. Once the desired matchups have been created (i.e. best attacker covered by a midfielder or weakest defender), let the athletes go to work. The defense has long slides to make should the on-ball defender get beat, and the dodger has plenty of room to work with to get a shot or a great pass to the uncovered off-ball offensive player.

Who’s on the field?

Who’s on the field? Wow! You want to start a debate about lacrosse strategy? Ask 100 coaches about personnel for the last five minutes when you’re down by two. You’re likely to get 100 different responses. There are three factors to consider when thinking about your personnel:


You have to have solid defenders in place, but consider their ability to jumpstart the transition game for your offense. Maybe you go with a defender who may be “serviceable” over a “great” defender because they can get up the field quickly and have a better offensive mindset. They need to be great decision-makers with the ball in their stick and know when to push transition and when to pull the ball out and pass it to an offensive player. This is a time in the game where every player has to be an offensive threat in some capacity.

Goal scorers

Do you need the “time and room” shooter on the field? Do you call upon your extra-man unit? Once you get back to even score and gain possession in your offensive end, take a time out and get your best offensive players back into the game and run a set play that you’ve practiced just for this situation.

Lacrosse players

For me, this is who I go with until we’re tied: my best all-around lacrosse players for the attack and midfield positions. I want players on the field who can play defense and offense. The last thing we want is to get a strictly offensive-minded shooter stuck on defense, where they are now a bigger liability than an asset.

Parents’ choice

Funny how they seem to know their kid could win the game for the team if you just gave them a shot! You know your team better than anyone, so try and block out the noise from the parents and go with your instincts.

Oh, by the way—let’s not forget that you have to make this decision in a two-minute time span while kids are getting drinks, adjusting equipment, etc. All of these decisions require you to really know your team and the ability of the athletes. Practicing this scenario a few times a week and planning for it can be a huge advantage to your team.

TJ Buchanan is the coaching education content manager at US Lacrosse. Suggest topics for future coaching blog posts in the comments section.

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