Ben Bender is a technical midfielder that excels in positive attacking play | Mind the Pitch

MTP Bender 16x9

Charlotte FC’s number one pick, Ben Bender, isn’t your typical 20-year-old.

Bender occupied his free time in college with soccer, soccer, and.... more soccer. He didn’t have time for distractions like social media, so he never even bothered to have it. When he wasn’t training or playing, he was watching film.

Bender is a student of the game. His diligence and dedication off the pitch have been rewarded with excellence on the pitch. In each of his two collegiate seasons, the midfielder has received All-Big Ten selections and in 2021 was named the Big Ten Midfielder of the Year and a First Team All-American.

Related Content:

The University of Maryland product joining Charlotte FC provides a good opportunity to break down real-life examples of positive attacking play from midfield.

Positive Attacking Play

Bender is a two-way midfielder who contributes to both the offensive and defensive side of the game, but his positive attacking play is the most defining aspect of his game.

Positive play in soccer refers to actions such as movement, dribbling, or passing that are done with the purpose of progressing the ball to eventually create a goal scoring opportunity.

Examples of positive attacking play are making forward passes in between defensive lines, making off-the-ball runs to open space for teammates, or dribbling into space to draw defenders.

There are many skills and abilities needed to excel in positive attacking play but the underlying one is a good awareness of what is going on around you. Knowing where the open pockets of space are and where your teammates are or will be are essential in effective positive attacking play.

A player may have excellent technical ability but if their spatial awareness is poor, it will greatly limit their capacity to use their technical gifts. For example, good passing technique is only as good as the awareness and vision to spot open teammates.

A strong awareness of what is happening on the pitch is what has helped Bender excel in his young soccer career thus far. But how does he do it?

Bender constantly scans his surroundings when he’s on the pitch. When he doesn’t have the ball, he scans for gaps in the opposing team’s structure to move into to receive the ball between an opponent’s defensive and midfield lines.

As the ball comes to him, he checks his shoulders to see how he should receive the ball to have the most time on it. Once the ball arrives to his feet, he has a good touch, and once again looks up to see if he can find teammates to pass to or space to dribble through.

Screen Shot 2022-01-11 at 1.58.41 PM
Bender recognizes the open space on the left side and runs into it making himself a passing option.
Screen Shot 2022-01-11 at 1.59.04 PM
He receives the pass and with his first touch passes it to his teammate who has made a run in-between the defensive and midfield lines.
Screen Shot 2022-01-11 at 1.59.14 PM
Immediately after passing to his teammate, Bender looks to make himself a passing option once again by running in behind the defender in front of him.
Screen Shot 2022-01-11 at 1.59.24 PM
He's now made himself an available threatening passing option running through on goal, he didn't receive the pass but with every touch and movement he made in this sequence it was an example of positive attacking play.

Bender is constantly looking - no pun intended - to be positive in every movement, pass, and dribble that he makes.

Arrival in the Box

In 2021, Bender notched an impressive seven goals and five assists in 18 games from that box-to-box midfield position. The majority of those came from intelligent runs into the opposing team’s penalty box.

The penalty boxes refer to the boxes you see on either end of the pitch

Bender is a technical, two-way midfielder that takes care of the ball, has great spatial awareness, and makes good supporting runs in attack,” said Charlotte FC Director of Scouting Thomas Schaling.

Because of Bender’s recognition of open pockets of space, he knows where to be at the right time in the box to put himself in a threatening position. He consistently arrives in the box to be a passing option which can also serve as distraction to free up other teammates.

Also important is his excellent timing of runs and that he has good shooting technique to be able to convert the chances he does get. Bender is also left-footed which is rare but valuable in creating more advantageous passing and shooting angles when playing in the midfield.

“He has a good shot from distance and good kicking technique,” said Schaling.

A good example of Bender arriving in the box late and using his good shooting technique to score a difficult chance.

All this talk about Bender’s offensive capabilities shouldn’t take away from the defensive side of his game. At the end of the day, Bender is a complete midfielder who contributes to both sides of the game. 

With that said, the step from college to MLS is a big one and naturally takes time to adjust to. He will be in good hands with Charlotte FC’s coaching staff that individually have proven track records of improving young players. 

Bender will be joining fellow former collegiate player Chris Hegardt at Charlotte FC, forming a solid duo of young, domestic midfielders to further bolster the Club’s inaugural roster.