As a high school player, Hall-Dale coach Andy Haskell gained an appreciation for the importance and even artistry of corner kicks playing against Brunswick High School.

That appreciation remains, judging by the way Haskell acts out a play he would often see the Dragons execute when he was first a ball boy then playing against them for rival Mt. Ararat.

“The guy that had a lot of neat little trick plays was Pete Gardner,” Haskell said, referring to the seven-time state championship coach at Brunswick and Richmond (who could not be reached for this story). “They used to do a lot of quick corners when he was in Brunswick. Twenty-five years ago, Brunswick was the best team off of quick corner kicks. It would be Jason Hill. It would be Walt Higgins. It’d be one of the Wiercinski brothers. It’d always be a different guy.”

“It always worked best when Greg Lennox took the short corner,” said Haskell. “When that happened, we knew we were in trouble.”

A couple of years later while playing for Lake Forest College in Chicago, Haskell’s coach saw a University of Virginia team coached by future USA national team coach Bruce Arena and led by Claudio Reyna win an NCAA championship on the strength of its corner kick production.

“Bruce Arena said ‘We never practiced them,'” Haskell said. “So for the next two years, we never practiced corners, and we did pretty well.”

Most high soccer teams go over corner kicks every day in practice, but scoring off a corner kick requires luck as much as skill — and probably even more courage.

Among some of the best players and teams in the world, the English Premier League only produces goals on two or three percent of corner kicks, according to the Washington Post. Only 12 percent result in a legitimate shot attempt.

No one tracks such percentages for Maine high school soccer, but even if they are lower, coaches are loathe to pass up an opportunity.

“Any time you have a set piece, you have a free, undefended shot that can go to the goal. It’s probably an advantage to the team that’s taking it,” Messalonskee boys coach Tom Sheridan said.

Teams try to take advantage of those opportunities in a variety of ways. Fans enjoy the long kicks into the penalty area in front of the goal because that’s where most of the bodies are waiting. But nothing happens unless the player kicking the ball has a strong, consistently accurate foot.

“It’s all about a good service that’s bending away from the goalie. You want to hit a ball that’s difficult for the goalie,” Haskell said. “If it’s difficult for the goalie to handle, then things can happen a lot easier.”

Senior Alex Guiou does most of the serving for the Bulldogs and looks to take advantage of his team’s size with every kick. One of the keys is to kick it far enough out in front so the goalie has second thoughts about punching the ball out.

“I look to put it right near the PK spot and look for our big guys to head it in,” Guiou said. “We have some pretty good height on our team. We have some people over 6 feet (tall), which is nice to have in the box to scramble around when the corner comes in.”

Guiou usually looks for seniors Ryan Sinclair and Josh Berberich in front of the net. Both are over 6-feet and know that they are the center of the defense’s attention on corners.

“I need to either win it in the air off the head or, if it’s too far out, jump out, trap it and look to one-time it,” Sinclair said.

That’s where courage comes in. The front of the net isn’t a place for the faint of heart.

“You’ve got to find kids that are going to throw the body in on that ball,” Monmouth Academy girls coach Gary Trafton said. “There aren’t a lot of kids that want to do that, because that ball is screaming across, and you’re just letting your body go in there and try to head it in.”

Teams will also use short or quick corners to either catch a defense off-guard or get the ball on the feet of a skilled player in space. But coaches usually limit the number of set corner plays they use to two or three because of the logistics of the game.

Field dimensions are also a factor in Maine high school soccer. Hall-Dale’s field is a World Cup regulation field at 75 feet wide. Many other schools in the Mountain Valley Conference are closer to the minimum width of 55 feet.

Scoring off a corner can give a team an emotional lift. Giving up one can have the opposite effect. So some teams, such as Hall-Dale, work on corner defense more than offense.

Teams will use man-to-man, zone or some combination of the two to defend corners. Regardless of what defense is employed, everyone is charged with the same task — get the ball out as quickly as possible.

“You try to read where they’re going to be and try to be in their spot and set up before them,” Sheridan said. “It can be a little tricky when people do short corners because there are different angles.”

“We just focus on when it comes near us get the ball out as far as we can,” Guiou said.

If they get it out far and fast enough, the Bulldogs — and many other teams — will look to turn the tables on the offense quickly.

“Our team loves to counter. We play that quick ball out and try to go as fast as we can,” Guiou said.

“When we had Brian Allen in goal, who could throw the ball 50 yards down the field, we enjoyed it when teams wanted to come forward because we put Konnor Longfellow up top and get him on breakaways,” Haskell said.

Like virtually everything else in soccer, corner kicks require players to think fast on their feet. Coaches can’t call a timeout to set up their offense or defense whenever there is a corner, so players need to have their communication and timing down.

“You really have to trust that your players on the field to have a good understanding,” Sheridan said. “You can yell it on the field but they may not be able to hear you. You need eight or nine people in there who are all on the same page.”

Randy Whitehouse — 621-5638

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Twitter: @RAWmaterial33