It is time to throw away the American inferiority complex with its place in the sport, where many blindly claim that technique should come above all in choosing and developing the best prospects and that the U.S. is not an international power because it cares too much about athleticism.
Nine Underground Teams You Should Be Following
Everyone likes to be that knowledgeable friend in the group with all the information on the latest in underground trends. To help you be that friend, I have compiled this list of a few non-mainstream teams that play some of the best football on the planet. You can use this list to stay up to date on some of the most attacking and radical soccer played by relatively unknown teams, or to kick start that new football manager save, or to equip yourself with the knowledge that would make any football fan envious.
With that said, let's kick off my list of Nine underground teams you should be watching if you enjoy entertaining/attacking soccer.
Kicking off this list is Magdeburg. Magdeburg is a newly promoted team to the second Bundesliga that employs a style that takes the idea of a sweeper keeper to a new level. Led by Christian Titz, this team uses their goalkeeper as essentially a third center back in buildup play, sometimes having him recycle possession and spray passes from near the halfway line.
This Twitter thread showcases the absurdity of the system along with the benefits and disadvantages.
The unique role of the goalkeeper in Christian Titz's Magdeburg tactics ✍️— Ben Griffis (@BeGriffis) August 11, 2022
Titz uses his GK, Dominik Reimann, in a revolutionary way… almost as a CB in buildup
This 🧵 will show the key elements, benefits, and risks of Titz's tactic#EINMALIMMER #Bundesliga pic.twitter.com/fT7xYVitJe
The primary advantage to a system like that is what it allows in recycling possession as the goalkeeper acting as an additional outfield player allows more numbers to push into the final third, thus increases scoring opportunities. That is an oversimplification of what Christian Titz and Magdeburg do, but just know it works and is a lot of fun to watch.
The season before Titz took over Magdeburg, the club finished 11th in Germany's third division, scoring just 42 goals in 38 games with a final goal difference of -3. This last year, his first season, the club ran away with the league. Magdeburg won the 3rd division by 14 points and scored 83 goals, the most the 3rd Bundesliga has seen in five years.
I'm excited to see how this radical style of play holds up in a higher division against better competition this upcoming season.
This team is my personal favorite on this list. I'm a sucker for a good story, and this Norwegian club has an incredible one. This club went from promotion to the first division in 2018 to defeating Jose Mourinho's Roma side 6-1 in 2021 and is now just two games away from Champions League qualification.
Check out the quality of the movement in the six goals they scored against Roma, making it the first time a Mourinho team ever conceded six goals.
Kjetil Knutsen and his Bodo Glimt side are an absolute work of art.
Glimt regularly has one of the youngest teams in the entire league and yet they remain dominant despite constantly selling their best players to European poachers like AC Milan, Watford, and AZ Alkmaar. Imagine losing your best players every season, maintaining a squad younger than your competitors . . . and you keep winning.
In 2020, the club won their first ever Eliteserien title and did so in a groundbreaking fashion despite having the second youngest team in the league. Those records include
Most wins in a season: 26 out of 30
Widest title-winning margin: 19 Points
Most points in a season: 81
Most goals scored: 103
Best goal difference: 71
So how do you accomplish that despite high squad turnover? With a head coach and staff with a special tactical setup. Luckily, this happens to be entertaining to watch, which revolves around constant runs in behind, quick passing, and pressing/counter pressing extremely high up the field, sometimes in the opposition's defensive third.
I'm excited to see if Bodo can qualify for the Champions League this season and what that will do for their finances and fanbase.
F.C. Barcelona Women
Yes, I know, I know, this shouldn't count as underground, considering they played a game in front of 91 thousand fans just a few months ago. But I wanted to include them anyway for two reasons. One, they are incredibly fun to watch, and two, women's soccer is still not scratching the surface of how popular it could become.
Anyway, why did 91 thousand fans attend the game? Well, for one, this team is arguably the greatest women's soccer team put together so far. Last season they won 45 of 47 games, went a perfect 30 for 30 in La Liga and won 3 of 4 possible trophies, all while boasting a +198 goal difference with 221 scored and just 23 conceded. None of what I just wrote was a typo. Yes, they averaged about five goals a game at the highest level of women's soccer.
This team is as fun as it gets with a team first tiki-taka approach remixed by head coach, Jonatan Giraldez, to harness the creative qualities of the likes of Asisat Oshoala, Alexia Putellas, Jennifer Hermoso, Lieke Martens, and Caroline Hansen.
I mean, just look at this.
It is also quite possible that the team will be even better next season despite losing Alexia Putellas to a torn ACL and stars like Hermoso and Martens to transfers. The depth remains, and they're stockpiling some of the best young talents Spain has to offer.
UNC Greensboro Men's Soccer
This team is my second favorite addition to this list. I'm a lowkey fan of college soccer, and as someone who was once on a college soccer team that finished top 15 in Division 1 goals scored led by some highly talented attacking players, I have a special appreciation for teams who score a lot of goals.
That leads me to last year's NCAA D1 leader in goals per game in Chris Rich's UNC Greensboro team at 2.89 per game. In 18 games, this team had 10 different occasions where they scored at least 3, including 4 of which they nailed at least five.
So whether you're looking for an introduction to college soccer or whether you're looking to follow some of the most entertaining teams in the country this season, UNC Greensboro Men's Soccer is the team for you.
With college soccer, you'll get games played at neck-breaking speeds with lots of pressing and undiscovered talents. At times, the games are so fast-paced it can almost look like a different sport, which is where teams like UNC Greensboro come in, harnessing that chaos into something beautiful, a ton of goals.
As a bonus, check out this absolute banger one of their freshmen hit last year.
Kyoto Sanga F.C.
This squad, led by Cho Kwi-jea, is one of two super hipster additions to this list. If you've watched the Japanese National Team, you'll see that they operate at an extremely high technical level. The J league is no different. And one of the most entertaining teams in a competition packed with entertainment is the newly promoted Kyoto Sanga.
This is a team that is committed to the high risk/high reward game of playing out of the back no matter the cost. And while it can result in the position they find themselves in at the moment, two points above the relegation zone with ten games to go, it can also result in beautiful goals like this scored.
Watch and enjoy:
Although they've gained a ton of popularity over the last few years, you can't make a list like this without including Atalanta and their borderline psychotic manager, Gian Piero Gasperini. I say borderline psychotic affectionately to describe this manager's incredible uber-attacking tactical style based on his interpretation of the 3-4-3 formation.
In 2019/20, Gasperini's Atalanta side broke the Serie A record for goals when they scored 98. The following season they double down on that by scoring 90, which is good for third in the league's prestigious history. That year they scored 116 goals in all competitions and went all the way to the Champions League Quarter-Finals, which was the best the club has ever accomplished.
And while a combination of losing some of his best players and tactical adjustments have limited Atalanta's success over the last season, let's not forget how entertaining this team has been to watch. In the last three Serie A seasons alone, they've partaken in 16 games with at least six goals scored between the two teams.
3-3, 7-1, 7-0, 7-2, 6-2, 4-2, 5-2, 5-1, 3-3, 4-2, 5-1, 5-2, 4-3, 5-2, 6-2, 4-4
It goes without saying that if you want to watch a guaranteed entertaining game on any given weekend, Atalanta is as close as it comes to a safe bet.
To be fair, I have not seen this new iteration of the Anderlecht team in action yet. This addition is more based on what their newly appointed coach, Felice Mazzu, did last season.
Similar to Kjetil Knutsen and Bodo Glimt, Mazzu took a newly promoted Union SG finish to a first-place finish in the Belgian First division regular season, becoming the first newly promoted team in the league's history to accomplish that. As a result, they qualified for the Champions League for the first time in their 124 years.
Mazzu did this all off the back of a 3-5-2 system primarily focused on utilizing the natural width of two wingbacks to create overloads followed by aggressive running in behind by both strikers. But perhaps what is most interesting about Mazzu's tactics is that while most of the teams on this list jeopardize defensive safety in favor of goals, Mazzu has found a balance. His newly promoted Union SG somehow scored the most goals and conceded the least in Belgium last season.
We will see how this will translate over at Anderlecht with greater pressure for results and perhaps less patience for a free-flowing style of play, but what he accomplished last season is enough to warrant adding a Felice Mazzu-coached team to this list.
Brighton & Hove Albion F.C.
I have to have Brighton on this list. Graham Potter is one of the most underrated coaches in all of soccer. Pep Guardiola has said Potter is the best British coach in the sport, and Jurgen Klopp went as far as to say that Potter is one of the best in the world and that he hates competing against his Brighton teams.
The reason for those compliments lies in the flexibility and tactical approach of Potter's system. While Potter prefers the 3-4-3 formation, his teams are capable of seamlessly transitioning to a 4-3-3 depending on the game and opposition. In the 3-4-3, Potter prefers his wing backs to maintain extreme width, spreading the field as wide as possible to maximize the space to play out of the back and maintain possession. Those wing backs then transition into wide forwards in attack, often occupying the position a traditional winger would. It requires absurd fitness to make the system work, but it does result in some jaw dropping team goals.
This goal here mimics a bit of what we saw with Magdeburg, with Brighton's goalkeeper, Robert Sanchez, occupying a position as if he were an additional center back. It allows him to pick out a gorgeous cross-field ball to Cucurella, who started the game as a wing back on paper but looked more like a winger in that instance.
And perhaps this second goal from the Premier League's opening weekend does Potter's Brighton more justice. It starts with the left forward backheeling the ball from his corner flag to evade pressure and results in the right wingback, who was occupying a left wingback position, striking a rebound into an open net.
Brighton goals in their 2-1 win vs Man United in the Premier League at Old Trafford.— Lij (@ElijahKyama) August 13, 2022
Today they play Newcastle at 5pm who won vs Nottingham Forest. The 1st match on the @SportPesa Mega Jackpot at 232 Million: https://t.co/lNzgtUVfOY All the best to us! pic.twitter.com/iGdPouiORN
Its fluid and requires a lot of tactical understanding, but boy is it fun to watch. It's only a matter of time until a bigger team picks up Graham Potter, but until then, we should all enjoy watching Brighton play.
Mamelodi Sundowns F.C.
To end this list, I want to leave you with a true hipster team. If you follow African soccer, you know about this team, but if you do not, they are an absolute hidden gem. Affectionately nicknamed, 'The Brazilians,' because of their jersey colors, this team is renowned for their playing style, which they call "Shoe shine and Piano."
How sick is that?
Shoe shine and piano is their version of tiki-taka, and as South Africa's most successful club coming off the back of four successive league trophies and an African Champions League win in 2016, this club has successfully married the gap that can often exist between attractive play and winning loads of games.
Just check out this clip from one of the players the club employed.
It's a little rude for the commentators to laugh as much as they did, but it is pretty incredible.
When analyzing this club, think Barcelona. Because despite floating through different managers over the years, the club maintains a strict philosophy that across their youth academies and men's and women's professional team, they must maintain a shoe shine and piano style seeped in elegance and quality. As a result, they usually finish their seasons as the league's runaway leaders in possession with over 60% per game and with the most goals scored.
I'll leave you with this video of this incredibly entertaining club.
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