Just as at the state evaluations, quality first touch is the most important technical indicator of skill. Can the player control the ball with one touch or does he/she need multiple touches to bring the ball under control? Does the player get away from pressure with first touch or does he/she get into trouble because of a poor touch? This is closely related to the ‘speed of play’ at the elite level. The better the players, the higher the speed of play. In order for players to survive at the higher level’s speed of play, they have to have a good first touch.
The speed of play at the region pool level is much higher than at the state level and requires players to think quicker and control the ball quicker. Since players at this level are physically and mentally sharper, they anticipate and close down on the ball quickly, which means players have to execute their moves in tight areas, often surrounded by multiple opponents who pounce on every poor touch.
Another important attribute is what we call ‘quick feet’, i.e. the ability to change direction on a dime and shift weight from one foot to the other and evade challenges with quick foot movements. This is, in the long run, an indicator of soccer specific athleticism which is more important than sheer size. As players mature at varying rates, size eventually evens out. But someone with ‘quick feet’ will always have an advantage and is more likely to develop into an ‘explosive’ player, which is so vital at the elite level.
Athleticism becomes very important at the highest level once players mature physically. It is no longer possible to just rely on superior skill without speed, strength and power, since all the players are highly skilled. The better athletes ally their physical attributes to their skill to rise to the top.
Lastly, ‘soccer smarts’ is also evaluated at the region level. Decisions on the ball and off the ball are scrutinized. Being able to ‘read the game’ and understand what kind of pass is needed, how to keep the ball under pressure, where to position oneself, how to help the team maintain a good team shape in attack and in defense, when to support the ball from behind and when to make runs ahead of the ball. All of these problem solving abilities separate the state level player from the region level player.