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Three-player pass combinations: the key lies in delivering the through pass to the third player.

Most soccer coaches and their players are familiar with the various two-player pass combinations - the wall pass, give-and-go combination, the takeover dribble, and the overlap.

They know little, if anything, about three-player combination - what they are, how they are executed, and the advantages they offer.

The key element is, of course, the third player. Two of the basic variations involve players who pass the ball in an up-back-and-through combination.

Diag. 1 illustrates the basic pass combination, with B and C passing the ball back and forth until A can work free for the ("up") pass from C (first pass).

As A passes back to B coming up to meet the ball (second pass), C runs behind A for the through pass from B (third pass), also known as the long-axis pass.

A then turns blindside from the ball - away from the motion of the ball and the eyes of the defenders - and receives a square pass from C (fourth pass), putting him in position to attack the goal.

It is, as you can see, a very neat maneuver: up, back and through. It is efficient and quick, a great pass combination, often seen on the field and often unrecognized. The trick is to look for the third player - the one receiving the through pass (C).

Diag. 2 shows a variation of the play, with the back pass being delivered by the player who made the up pass (C).

As you can see, C delivers the ball up to A (first pass) and then moves slightly forward to get the ball back from A {second pass).

Meanwhile, B runs forward and then behind A for the through pass from C (third pass), as A pivots away from the ball into position to receive the square pass from B (fourth pass) and attack the goal.

This is an excellent example of the three-player pass combination being executed at a high level with the players reading each other and running off the ball.

Only practice and time will give the coach and players the best idea of who should stay behind and who should run in this situation. But at least one player must always run forward to receive the through pass.

The next step in the up-back-and-through pass combination is to recognize that the player receiving the through pass does not have to start from a position behind the ball. This is an important concept, and has many variations.

Diag. 3 shows how we can begin with four players and use all of them in the familiar up-back-and-through pattern.

After B makes the up-pass to A (pass one), he can get the ball right back from A (pass two), as C and D run forward and begin to converge in the middle.

B now has several options. Diag. 3 shows him passing to C and C square-passing the ball over to D.

In a game situation, B isn't required to set up directly behind A, but to the left or right of him.

The back pass (A to B) is the key to concealing the point of attack. Will B pass to the right or left? Will the through pass (pass three) be the focus of the attack? Or will the through pass set up the square pass (pass four)?

Diag. 4 illustrates one more variation of Diag. 3. A passes to B, who back-passes to D, who then hits C running diagonally past B, as A fills in the area vacated by C.

This is quite similar to the combination in Diag. 3, except for A's replacement of a teammate (C). This is an important concept)pass and cover and pass and replace a running player). We always replace from the back.

The back pass (pass three) is best delivered at an angle, concealing the point of attack.

Our final variation is what we call "the up-back-through that doesn't have to be made." See Diag. 5.

Assume that three players are in a straight line - A at the back of the line and C near the goal. A passes to B, who one-touch back- passes (pass two) and then moves to the side to create space for the through (or long axis) pass to C (pass three}.

This is the classic up-backthrough combination, but there really is no need for it! Check Diag. 6. If B starts to one side or the other, A can pass directly to C.

The up-back-through is needed only when the direct through pass cannot be executed. So, whenever possible, omit the second pass.

Major point: Never station three players in a straight line - either up, across, or on a diagonal. Moving the B player to a side will eliminate the need for the three-player combination and allow you to deliver the through (first pass) directly.


1. The three-player pass combination helps conceal the point of attack with the one-touch back pass.

2. The three-player pass combination creates chances for delivering the through pass.

3. The target of the through pass can run an overlap or begin ahead of the ball.

4. More than three players can be involved.

5. By not positioning the three players in a straight line, you can deliver the through pass directly from A to C, a quicker and generally deadlier option.

6. The three-player combination is a basic part of the modern game, and should be practiced and perfected.
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Author:Maher, Alan E.
Publication:Coach and Athletic Director
Date:Dec 1, 1998
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