It’s all in the arm. Soccer is all about kicking the ball, but the often neglected throw-in has gotten plenty of attention recently. Stoke City’s long-throw specialist, Rory Delap, has caused quite a stir in the English Premier League.
The only time a field-player can touch the ball - unless you are Diego Maradona, but that’s another story - is on a throw-in. Delap, a 6-foot midfielder, has mastered the art of the long throw. His aerial bombardments have caused nightmares for some of the best defenses in the game.
The 32-year-old’s catapults from the sideline have assisted on nine of Stoke’s goals this season, including two last month. Delap assisted on both of Stoke’s goals with throws in the 2-1 upset of Arsenal earlier in the season. An average soccer player with good arms stymied Arsenal’s flowing possession game.
Done right, a good thrown-in can be more dangerous than a free kick or a corner because a player can’t be offside on a throw-in, so opponents can crowd the goalmouth, giving the goalie jitters.
Delap, a former high-school javelin champion, seems to have no problem throwing the ball more than 42 yards. Most long throws tend to be high and loopy, but Delap’s throw has a flat trajectory, which means the ball is lower and faster and can reach a speed of 37 mph. His targets are the heads of his teammates in the six-yard box. The record throw-in is held by former Tranmere Rovers defender David Challinor, who threw for 50.6 yards in 1998.
Major League Soccer has a number of throw-in specialists. Adrian Serioux and Marvel Wynne of Toronto FC and Houston’s Craig Waibel have good arms. And at D.C. United, Marc Burch and Chris Pontius are the best throwers.
Burch said Pontius has the best throw on the team.
“We didn’t use it in the first few games,” Burch said. “But if Chris gets close - let him throw it. If we can use a throw like a corner kick, we should.”
Other notable mentions in MLS go to Michael Dello-Russo (FC Dallas), Eric Denton (San Jose), C.J. Brown (Chicago) and Lawson Vaughn (Chivas).
But no one comes close to Delap’s ability. His club is a blue-collar team that was promoted to the top flight of English soccer this season for the first time in 23 years. Most critics projected the team as a likely candidate for relegation at the end of the season. At the moment, the Potters are 13th in the league, and Delap’s throw-in prowess might help keep them in the top flight for another season. Stoke hosts the Blackburn Rovers and former D.C. United captain Ryan Nelsen on Saturday; the game will be shown live on Fox Soccer Channel at 10 a.m.
Moving down - Luton Town was relegated out of the Football League after 89 years Monday following a scoreless tie with Chesterfield. The Hatters, who won the League Cup in 1988, beating Arsenal in the final, will drop from League Two and play in the Conference division.
Goals on the road - When a team scores four goals on the road in the Champions League, especially when you factor in the away-goal rule, it expects to come out a winner. Not so for Liverpool. The Reds’ four goals at Chelsea in a 4-4 draw Tuesday was not enough to send them through. Chelsea won 7-5 on aggregate after winning 3-1 at Liverpool last week.
Bumpy weekend for goalies - Last weekend was interesting for MLS goalies. Kasey Keller got red-carded in the 29th minute of just his fourth game for Seattle. Third-string keeper Ben Dragavon replaced Keller but couldn’t keep the clean sheet in a 1-0 home loss to Kansas City.
Red Bulls goalie Danny Cepero was forced out of Saturday’s scoreless draw with the Houston Dynamo after a collision in the eighth minute. Backup keeper Alec Dufty, with no professional experience, came in to preserve the tie in a game that featured seven yellow cards and two reds.