Steve Kerr drawing inspiration from World Cup: ‘That’s the way we want to play’

Did you catch the third goal scored by Brazil against South Korea? Warriors coach Steve Kerr did. As did the entire Warriors’ team. 

Kerr made sure of it.

“What a spectacular goal,” Kerr told FOX Sports. “What I liked about that one was the ball movement. That’s the way we want to play. I wanted our guys to see that and try to replicate it.”

It was vintage Samba soccer. Brazil’s Richarlison controlled a weak clear by the South Korean defense with one, two, three juggles of the ball on his head and two more on his right foot before flicking it between two defenders to Marquinho waiting at the top of the penalty box. Richarlison then cut to the goal but let Marquinho’s one-touch return pass scoot through him to Silva, while Richarlison’s defender peeled off after the ball. 

Too late. 

Silva slotted another one-touch pass back to a wide open Richarlison, who calmly tucked the ball into the lower left corner.

The clip of the goal was part of the Warriors’ preparation to face the Indiana Pacers on Monday night. They didn’t get the same result as the Brazilians, falling to an undermanned Indiana squad led by rookie Andrew Nembhard, who put on a show of his own, but that won’t deter Kerr from continuing to watch every minute of every World Cup match that he can, both as a fan of the sport and as a prospector looking for tactical or stylistic elements he can incorporate into his game plans.

“I do love watching set pieces because it does remind me of ATOs (after time-out plays), side out-of-bounds plays, late-game stuff,” Kerr said. “There are a lot of similarities when you look at what teams are doing. And I actually read, I don’t remember who, but that a European soccer coach was doing the same thing in reverse — that he was watching NBA games and looking at ATOs for set piece ideas.”

Kerr’s soccer career didn’t go beyond sixth grade as a midfielder for the AYSO Condors in the Pacific Palisades, but he’s been a lifelong fan and recognizes that the spacing, footwork and creativity of the two sports mirror each other. 

“There are a lot of similarities, for sure, especially in how to attack,” he said. “I love basketball players who played soccer. I think they’re such a great connection. You can see the influence. (Manu) Ginobili, Toni Kukoc, (Steve) Nash — they saw angles that they might otherwise wouldn’t have if they hadn’t played so much soccer.”

Kerr became a fan of Liverpool in the English Premier League when the team acquired Egyptian star Mo Salah. Kerr’s late father, Malcolm, was a university professor who specialized in the Middle East and Arab world, and the family spent time living in Egypt during Kerr’s youth. The Warriors coach was actually born in Beirut, Lebanon, before his father took a position at UCLA and the family settled in the Palisades. 

Kerr was at the University of Arizona when his father returned to the Middle East to serve as president of the American University of Beirut. 

Kerr’s father was assassinated in 1984.

“I watched the 2018 World Cup really closely and then started watching Liverpool because I liked Mo Salah,” he said. “They became my team just because of my affection for him. I lived in Egypt for a few years growing up, so I kind of have a soft spot for Egypt. So after that World Cup, I started watching the Premier League every weekend. The quality of play is so incredible.”

That fandom led Kerr to visit the Liverpool training facility earlier this year to watch the team train and have lunch with The Reds’ manager, Jürgen Klopp. One of his offseason neighbors in San Diego, Andy Kohlberg, is president and part owner of RCD Mallorca, a team in Spain’s La Liga. Kerr and his wife, Margot, visited Mallorca on vacation in September, took in a game with Kohlberg, and met with the team.   

“It was awesome,” Kerr said. “They’re renovating the stadium. They’ve been a team that’s been relegated a couple of times. I think they were second division when they bought the team, but they’re really building the club well and having an excellent season so far. To visit and see what they’re building there and how some of these soccer clubs are going about their business is really fun.”

While Kerr appreciates the Brazilians’ artistry, and he rooted for Team USA until it was eliminated by the Netherlands in the round of 16, there is no doubt who he is pulling for in the tournament now: Morocco.

“Are you kidding me?” he laughed. “At this stage, they are the Cinderella story. They’re the team in the NCAA tourney that no one picked and somehow has won the first two or three games. Morocco is going to be in the Elite 8! How did this happen? How cool is that? I realize it’s highly unlikely, but I’d love to see them keep going.”

His daughter, Maddy, has tried to help him with his tactical analysis of World Cup play.

“She texted me during the USA game,” he said. “She goes, ‘I don’t know soccer that well, but it seems like the Dutch’s strategy is to let the two guys in the man buns dribble all the way up the field knowing they can’t hurt us.'”

Kerr laughed. Don’t look for the Warriors to adopt that tactic. 

“‘The Two Man-Bun Guys,'” he said. “But it was true. We weren’t getting good looks at all.”

Ric Bucher is an NBA writer for FOX Sports. He previously wrote for Bleacher Report, ESPN The Magazine and The Washington Post and has written two books, “Rebound,” on NBA forward Brian Grant’s battle with young onset Parkinson’s, and “Yao: A Life In Two Worlds.” He also has a daily podcast, “On The Ball with Ric Bucher.” Follow him on Twitter @RicBucher.

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