what is pausa and why is it important?

La Pausa literally translates to “the pause.” It generally describes the ability to dictate the pace of match, usually to slow it down. It is the ability to wait until the perfect moment to pass the ball. To take an extra second, almost like taking a breath, before playing the ball. Thereby pulling defenders away from the recipient. It is not taking an extra touch or dribbling. Nor is it rapid acceleration or deceleration. As the name suggests, it is a split second pause, often under pressure, before playing a pass.

A player who possesses pausa will watch the play develop before taking action. In practice it can look as though the player waited too long to play the pass, which is the point. It throws off the defensive rhythm. Very broadly, it helps the team in possession completely control the pace and movement of the match.

Iniesta dribbles for a second, then pauses pulling the defender towards himself, opening up space for Xavi

Pausa is not a learned trait. It is something a player either has or does not have. There are great players with pausa, Xavi, and great players without pausa, Kevin De Bryune. However, the best teams almost always have at least one player, typically a midfielder, with pausa. Barcelona have Sergio Busquets, Real Madrid have Luka Modric and Toni Koors, Manchester City have Ilkay Gundogan, Liverpool have Thiago, Bayern Munich have Joshua Kimmich and so on.

Having midfielders with pausa enables teams to keep possession and control. Since midfielders are usually at the heart of possession and creating attacking sequences, having a midfielder with pausa ensures the ability to dictate the tempo of the match is right in the middle of the action. However, it is important to note that while pausa is typically associated with midfielders, the trait itself is not limited to midfielders. For example, Manchester City centerback Aymeric Laporte also possesses the trait.

the usmnt players

Given the desire for the USMNT to play with possession and attack fluidly, having players with pausa can unlock the system. The US needs the ability to control the pace of matches and slow down attacks allowing space to open up. It would also help to limit the amount of running in a three-match window for World Cup Qualifying. So let’s take a look at the USMNT pool and who does and does not possess pausa.

To compile a list of the USMNT player pool, I asked my Twitter followers to give me their top two or three players in each field position. The rules: everyone is healthy, exclude prospects and players can only be listed once. Each player listed by more than one person, will make up the player pool for the purposes of this article.

The following players are the “player pool”:

Josh Sargent Daryl Dike Gio Reyna Tim Weah
Tyler Boyd Christian Pulisic Brendon Aaronson Jordan Morris
Yunus Musah Luca de la Torre Cristian Roldan Julian Green
Kellyn Acosta Weston McKennie Sebastian Lletget Tyler Adams
Jackson Yueill Owen Otasowie Antonee Robinson Sam Vines
John BrooksMark McKenzie Tim Ream Erik Palmer-Brown
Cameron Carter-Vikers Chris Richards Matt Miazga Aaron Long
Sergiño Dest DeAndre Yedlin Reggie Cannon Bryan Reynolds

LA Pausa or no pausa

The vast majority of USMNT players in the pool do not possess pausa. In fact, the biggest names like Christian Pulisic, Tyler Adams, Weston McKennie, Sergino Dest and Gio Reyna do not have pausa. As a result the USMNT can struggle to keep control of a match, especially when playing a pressing team or another possession team. The instincts of the current USMNT players is to immediately transition, play quick passes and begin rushing into the attack. This is the opposite of pausa. Again, this does not mean they are bad players or that their way of playing is worng. Pausa is just a skill they do not possess.

So who on the national team does have pausa? The answer is not really anyone. There are a few players in the pool that might possess the skill but are young or have too little accessible match footage to really tell. However, the truth remains, the current USMNT pool lacks pausa.

Since the USMNT lacks players with pausa, it forces the team to constantly play directly and relay more heavily on dribbling. While this is a legitimate strategy, it may not be the best strategy for Concacaf. In the high heat and high humidity environments of away matches, constantly playing directly and at a high tempo will quickly become tiring. Additionally, it will increase the risk of injury to the squad. Having a player in midfield with pausa to slow the tempo down would be a massive benefit.

Pausa in the future

While the current USMNT senior player pool lacks players with pausa, there are USYNT players who possess the trait. The most notable amoung them? Red Bull New York’s Caden Clark. Perhaps, given Clark spent time at Barcelona’s Residency Academy, and Barcelona is known for cultivating this skill, it comes as no surprise that even at 17, the instinct to pause before releasing a pass can be seen.

Clark revives the ball then pauses for a fraction of a second, drawing the defender closer to himself as well as allowing his teammate to begin his run
Clark receives the ball and instead of playing the pass immediately, hesitates until the defender has almost closed him down centrally, leaving the wing exposed

Since Clark is still only 17, his pausa like any other skill, will continue to develop. However, he has the instinct which is a tremendous asset. When he finally breaks into the senior USMNT squad, having his pausa available will open up more tactical possibilities and will increase the team’s potential playing styles. The midfielder is already an exciting prospect, and this skill only adds to his potential.