Joe Morrone, Tactical Mastermind And American Father Of The ‘Corner Stall’ Ploy

As with many soccer coaches of his era, Joe Morrone did not fit the profile of what we would consider a modern soccer coach.

First, he did not have a background in the sport — "I think the first time I saw a soccer game, I was playing in it," Morrone said

Then there was his appearance on the sideline — donning sunglasses and a suit and toting a clipboard that rarely survived the full 90 minutes.

"It goes way back to a tough loss when I coached at Middlebury," Morrone said of the clipboard. "I punched a cinder-block wall. The wall did not move. I said there has to be a better way to express my dissatisfaction. It was the clipboard. One day I banged it over my knee and it broke. My manager didn't have another one. From then on, all my managers had extra clipboards."

Joe Morrone UConn Soccer

Although his clipboard and sideline demeanor more closely resembled the characteristics of an American football coach, Joe Morrone was one of the most influential coaches in American collegiate soccer history. Via UConn Athletics.

As head coach at the University of Connecticut men's soccer team from 1969 to 1996, Morrone won 385 games, took home a national championship in 1981 and ultimately transformed the landscape of American collegiate soccer during his UConn tenure.

He stressed the importance of showcasing American players and pushed hard for more recognition of the college game, whether it be increased publicity or improved stadiums and training facilities.

These efforts are obvious throughout the modern collegiate game, but it was some of his tactical inspirations that had a worldwide impact on the sport.

Soccer was not Morrone's first sport; instead, he grew up playing everything from hockey to basketball. In college, he was a member of the baseball and lacrosse teams at UMass. The Worcester, Massachusetts, native quickly learned the game while also bringing innovations inspired by his athletic background.

The UConn coach was one of the first to travel to Europe, the result of a government exchange program that sent him to Poland in the 1960s. As part of a coaching school, he was able to study the Polish national team for two weeks before the 1966 World Cup.

Morrone returned with film of the goalkeeping drills he observed. Such drills were non-existent in the American game at the time, making Morrone something of a goalkeeping guru.

In the early 1970s, while the Dutch school of Total Football was utilizing the goalkeeper as an extra field player while in possession, Morrone was doing the same with his keepers in Storrs, Connecticut.

He was also a purveyor of the kneeling throw-in — then legal in the college game — which made it easier to maintain possession by reducing the height from which the ball was released. 

One of Morrone's other tactics was frequent substitutions — letting players toil for 10-15 minute shifts and then bringing on fresh legs. Not only did this allow Morrone's sides to maintain a high work rate on the field, but it also let him manipulate the tempo of the game through the many stoppages.

Controlling the game was something Morrone did very well, which can be seen through his most impactful invention: stalling.

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Stalling was by no means a new strategy in American sports. In basketball, an offensive set known as the "four corners" was popularized in the 1960s by University of North Carolina coach Dean Smith.

As the name suggests, four players stood in the corners of the offensive half court while one would roam the middle of the floor. College teams used this tactic in the days before the advent shot clock in 1985-86, holding onto the ball until an open shot appeared. This often meant that teams kept possession without shooting for five to 10 minutes at a time.

On the pitch, Morrone adapted this tactic by instructing his players to hold the ball in the corner instead of going on the attack, thus creating the "corner stall" as we know it.

The Morrone stall is documented as far back as 1978, with an issue of The Connecticut Daily Campus newspaper detailing the strategy with great familiarity.

"Morrone's goal stood (scored by the coach's son) through the remainder of the first overtime and the second extra session, as the Huskies went into their 'stall,' refusing to take chances on shots, wary of losing possession and giving the Wildcats a chance to score."

While some viewed the stall as a gimmick, it was reflective of the hardnose approach to winning by an innovative coach. 

Today, the corner stall is a universal strategy used by winning teams in the final minutes of matches — irking Premier League players as much as it did Big East athletes in the last quarter of the 20th century. 

And we have a clipboard-wielding, national championship-winning New Englander to thank for it.

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