In soccer, every team is made up of eleven players who all play a distinct role just as in other games like baseball and basketball. Traditionally, these roles were divided into offensive and defensive players but as the game evolves over time, soccer players have varying game play and can fulfil multiple roles over time.
For beginners, it is important to understand the name and role of different soccer positions, so as to learn the game and make effective use of your skillset.
Though these positions are bound to evolve in terms of tactic and formation, here are the primary positions most commonly found in soccer:
As mentioned above, a soccer team is made up of ten outfield players and a goalkeeper. These positions can be divided into three general groups; attackers, midfielders and defenders.
These players are responsible for scoring most of the team’s goals and are situated closest to the opponent’s goalpost. They are also referred to as strikers or forwards and can make the most impact in a game.
The center forward plays the number 9 and is mostly considered the star of the game. This is because he is expected to score as many goals as possible for the team and is the front line of attack.
He plays close to the goal area with the responsibility to get past the opponent’s team defence as well as ensure the ball gets past the goalkeeper into the net.
To play the center forward position, you need to have a good first touch on the ball and be able to play under pressure.
Other roles when playing this position include defensive support though you should always be aware of your position depending on the game situation.
Read More about the center forward role >>>
They play along the touchlines on either side of the field so as to add width to their team’s game by running downfield and delivering crosses.
A great winger should be able to make play in tight spaces as well as take a shot at the goal using diagonal passes whenever possible.
This requires for a quick player who has masters dribbling and making crosses on the pitch.
Read More about the role of winger >>>
This player is a deep lying attacker whose role lies between that of a striker and midfielder.
The main responsibility of a second striker is to create scoring opportunities for his team’s centre forward and also score whenever the opportunity avails itself.
A good second striker should be able to set up game play for the attack unit by making passes through openings to create shots for strikers while holding off the opponent team’s defence simultaneously.
Playing this position requires excellent ball skills as well as good communication between the second striker and centre forwards.
Read More about the second striker role >>>
This is a position that was created to confuse the defence line of the opposing team.
This is because the False 9 is a player that starts close to the opponent team’s goal but can drop as far as the midfield line, leaving the defenders out of position on who to mark.
A good False 9 can be able to drop back into the midfield, make play and maintain ball possession with the aim of creating a goal scoring opportunity.
To play this position, you require a good dribbling skill set and the ability to play excellently under pressure.
Find out what makes a great False 9 >>>
As the name suggest, these players are mainly found in the middle of the field and have the highest number of playing positions.
Midfielders play both offensive and defensive positions and can transition easily from one role to another:
The defensive midfielder plays the number six and is positioned in front of the central defenders.
They are also referred to as the ‘stopper’ and this is because their major role is to disrupt the opponent team’s play going through the midfield.
They beef up their team’s defence by playing between the midfield and defence lines while holding back the opposing team’s striker from advancing past them.
This position requires good stamina and good positional awareness as there is lots of running and position transitions during the game.
The defensive midfielder should also be confident on the ball in order to make passes that count.
Discover the key skills all defensive midfielders need>>>
The playmaker is usually found behind the striker and acts as a connection between the midfield and strikers.
This is mainly an attacking position but still has defensive roles from time to time.
Rather than score the goals, the playmaker’s main responsibility is to create scoring opportunities for his team’s forwards.
Playing this position requires confidence, great footwork and ball skills as well as be able to make accurate and effective passes to strikers from his team.
Read about the World’s best playmakers >>>
This is one of the most crucial playing positions in soccer and is played by two players in different game formations.
The central midfielder can play both offensive and defensive roles depending on what the game situation requires.
This position is played by the number eight and they play just behind the strikers for most of the match.
Their two main roles are to support the forwards when attacking and also fall back to get the ball from the team’s defenders.
This is probably the most hardworking player on the pitch who control most of the game play in the midfield.
As such, this position requires a player to be fit and have sound tackling and ball passing skills.
Read More about the center midfield role >>>
Primarily a defensive role, the left/right midfielders are found on either sides of the forwards and wingers. Their main role is to provide cover for the side he is playing with as well as opening up the game for his teammates.
A good left/right midfielder should be comfortable playing with both feet so as to perform well when on either side of the pitch.
A left/right midfielder should be able to counter an attack from the opposing team using technical and tactical skills.
This provides extra security for his teammates on the sides of the pitch.
Discover the Skills and Drills all good wide midfield players need >>>
Initially, the main role of defenders in soccer was to stop the opponent’s goals and protect the goalkeeper.
Over time, this role has expanded to different smaller positions and below are various kinds of defenders with varied responsibilities:
This is the most specialized playing position in soccer where the goalkeeper can only play this one position.
This player’s main role is to stop the opponent’s team from scoring a goal and can handle the ball with any part of the body as long as he is in the penalty area.
The goalkeeper acts as the team’s last line of defence and plays like a regular field player when out of the penalty area.
Find out more about sensational stoppers and goalkeepers >>>
His main role is to ensure that the ball stays out of the penalty box and that the opponent’s strikers do not get past them with the ball.
Additionally, they also play one on one defence by marking the opponent’s players.
To play this position, one requires a strong stature, good passing skills and be able to anticipate the opponent’s moves.
Heading is also a crucial skill for playing the centre back position when seeking to clear high balls.
Just how tough do you need to be to play center back?>>>
This is one of the most intense positions on the pitch.
Their main role is to defend against wingers trying to pass the ball to their team’s attackers or getting the ball into the penalty area, this adds width to their game.
At times, fullbacks can support their attacking players but should always ensure they can easily run down the pitch and cover their defence position when the game requires it.
Just how fit do you need to be a modern fullback ?>>>
They provide scoring opportunities for strikers using crosses made up and down the sides of the pitch.
This player covers a great distance throughout the game and requires a player who is tactically aware of his position so as not to often leave his spot open.
A great wingback should have the stamina to last the whole game and be able to make snap decisions on how to play depending on the game situation.
Read More about the wingback position >>>
One of the marvellous qualities about soccer is the sheer number of positions that a player can choose from.
Nonetheless, having many options sometimes tends to confuse us rather than energize us.
Before picking any position in football, it is smart to first try all the ones you are interested in. This is the only way you can learn the basics concerning all the positions before you settle on one that you can full specialize in.
After doing this, the next natural question would be “How do I find the position which suits me best?”
First, you have to understand that your position is something dynamic that can change and evolve over time.
Even if you find yourself excelling in skills required for multiple positions, it’s always best to focus on one and perfect that first of all.
This will allow you to improve on skills that you are not good at and improve over time.
Here are a few tips for choosing your soccer position:
If you have been on the soccer field for some time, you should have a pretty good idea of what your general strengths and weaknesses are with regards to the game.
Noticing these qualities about yourself is extremely crucial since it will guide you in choosing the correct fit for your particular set of skills.
If you are faster than the average players for instance, being a winger or a side back may work well for you.
On the other hand, if you notice outstanding hand-eye co-ordination, quick-reflexes and agility, maybe being a goalie is where you would shine.
Every position on the soccer field has more than one role whether during attack or defense. Therefore, it is crucial that you get to understand the roles and what they entail when both attacking and defending.
Understanding other roles will enable you to judge which role is most suited to your skills and personality.
Furthermore, it helps you understand the other players and how to work together with other roles to achieve the team’s objectives… which is inherently scoring goals!
One of the easiest yet most effective ways to choose a position in soccer is by observing the pros at play. This way, you will see first-hand what it takes to execute the roles of a specific position to the fullest both when on or off the ball.
Do not get carried away after watching one or two games, or just one player in the position you are interested in. Watch a lot of games from different teams, noticing how the role evolves depending on team formation and game situation.
Lastly, do not choose a position just because your favorite player does it best.
Instead, check to see which positions match best with your natural and acquired skill set.
Most soccer players are great at playing in a single position and feel most comfortable if their role is clearly defined. Nonetheless, there are players who have the uncanny ability to transition between roles, almost seamlessly, and play different roles as the game demands.
It is not normally expected from a player to act as the jack-of-all trades in a team, but players who excel in their secondary role can be a manager’s dream come true.
Such players give a whole new outlook on what their position entails, offering more variety and options that cannot be achieved from a regular player.
Players who are able to assume multiple roles and positions in a team normally have an extremely great ability to read the game so as to know the perfect time to shift between the roles.
This quality is brought to life well by Arsenal’s Nacho Monreal who can intelligently switch between being a left-back, left-wing back and central defender almost effortlessly.
Another wizard at changing roles in the game is Thomas Muller of Bayern Munich. Starting his career mainly as a midfielder, Muller has evolved to fit well and play in other positions. Including being the centre-forward, right-forward, and central attacking midfielder.
Lastly, James Milner is another tip top example of a player who is great at switching position.
In fact, Milner has changed positions and roles, more than he has changed clubs. Milner career started with him as a winger, but since then, the Liverpool player has played on either flanks, at the centre of midfield, in the wing-back and full-back positions and even as a second striker.
If you watch a lot of soccer games, you will realize that players often move all over the pitch, getting pulled and pushed by the opposition’s movements.
Other players are naturally energetic, and may seem to pop up all over the pitch, giving the impression that they are playing multiple roles.
For instance, it is not unusual to find defenders with a knack of positioning themselves in just the perfect spot to score a goal. They prove that just because they are defenders, it does not mean that they cannot attack occasionally.
Of course, positions in soccer are not marked in stone, and realistically, no player is going to come to a sudden halt if they notice they are out of their designated positions during gameplay.
Instead, players try to maintain their position as much as possible without losing possession or leaving an unmanned area.
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