Soccer Positions: Goalkeeper to Strikers [Full Guide Updated 2022]

Soccer has been around for a long time, and over that time, players’ positions on the field have changed dramatically. Today, there are many factors to fully understand when it comes to soccer positions – from knowing the placement of each position on the field to learning how to train for each specific position.

Throughout this guide, I’ll explain everything you need to know about soccer positions.

What do you need to know about each soccer position?

To understand positions in soccer, you must be familiar with:

Defenders

defenders soccer positions

The soccer defenders’ main goal is to stop the opposing team from attacking and scoring goals. They are positioned within their half of the field and work together to ensure the other team doesn’t progress.

There are four ‘central’ defensive positions in soccer. They are:

  • Goalkeeper – The goalkeeper defends the goal from the other team’s offensive players. The goalkeeper is the only player who can use their arms and hands to block the ball as long as it is inside the penalty box. They cannot use their hands if they step outside the penalty box or if a team member passes them the ball.
  • Right and Left FullbacksThe right and left fullbacks to defend the sides of the field at the back and focus on blocking the opposing team’s wingers or right or left midfielders. It is better if they are lighter on their feet to move quickly up and down the field to help with various plays.
  • Center Back – The center back, or central defender, is another defense position that covers the center of the field just in front of the goal. Their purpose is to prevent the opposing team, or the ball, from reaching the goalkeeper.
  • Sweeper – The position of a sweeper is not used that often. However, when used, their job is to defend the goal as a line of defense between the goalkeeper and the other defenders. They must fill the gaps left by their teammates to protect the goal.

The best defenders in the world

Below are examples of players that have mastered their craft and are considered top players in their respective positions.

best defenders in the world

Data from EA Sports FIFA ’23 Ratings Database. Data was chosen as a neutral rating system, not to create a debate over which player is considered the ‘best.’ Data updated October 7, 2022


Midfielders

midfielders soccer positions

In soccer, the midfielders are stationed between the forwards and defenders in the middle of the field. Their main job is to be a part of the attack and keep the ball pushing forwards toward the goal. The midfielders are often known as the “engine room” of a team, as so much of the energy and action of a game comes through them and is created by them.

There are four types of midfielders on the field, and they are:

  • Defending or Holding midfielder – A midfielder, also known as a halfback, runs up and down the middle of the field between the defenders and forwards, connecting the team from the back to the front. They do lots of running during the game as they move the ball to different parts of the field. The defensive midfielder must focus on retrieving balls from the back of the field while setting up the ball for the forwards to attack.
  • Center Midfielder – As one of the essential roles, the central midfielder plays both offense and defense on the field. They set up plays for their team and move forward or backward, depending on where the ball is. They are the key to linking the team by making many important decisions on the field. They need to have excellent ball skills. They are known for making long shots on the goal and assisting others.
  • Right and Left Midfielders or Wingers – These midfielders play on the edges of the field drawing out the other team’s defense and making room for the center midfielder and attacking midfielder to move in the center. They will often encounter one-on-one ball action between themselves and the opposing team’s fullbacks as they work to cross the ball toward the center of the field to their teammates. Because they must dribble, pass the ball, assist in shots, and score themselves, wingers must be speedy and excellent at using the ball.
  • Attacking midfielder – Attacking midfielders spend most of a game focused on shooting and assisting the forwards. Like the center midfielder, the attacking midfielder must have great technique and accuracy when using the ball. They often take control of offensive plays and support the attack when possible.

The best midfielders in the world

Below are examples of players that have mastered their craft and are considered top players in their respective positions.

best midfielders in the world

Data from EA Sports FIFA ’23 Ratings Database. Data was chosen as a neutral rating system, not to create a debate over which player is considered the ‘best.’ Data updated October 7, 2022


Forwards

forwards soccer positions

Forwards are the chief goal scorers of the team, as they are placed close to the opposing team’s goal and don’t have many defensive responsibilities. Forwards score more goals than anyone else on the soccer field because of their strategic position.

There are two types of forwards found on the field:

  • StrikerThe striker’s role is to score goals. They are positioned in front of the field and always want to receive passes from their teammates to score a goal. They must be quick and able to outrun the other team’s defense and profit from their mistakes.
  • Center Forward – The primary role of the center forward, like the striker, is to score goals. Center forwards are known for control of the ball in the air, having good dribbling skills, and working as a distraction for the striker.

The best forwards in the world

Below are examples of players that have mastered their craft and are considered top players in their respective positions.

best forwards in the world

Data from EA Sports FIFA ’23 Ratings Database. Data was chosen as a neutral rating system, not creating a debate over which player is considered the ‘best.’ Data updated October 7, 2022


Soccer Positions on the Field

soccer-positions-zones Soccer positions by zones on the field

The next step in understanding the various soccer positions is to know where each player is positioned on the soccer field.

Each player may play in multiple spots on the field depending on their coach’s decisions, the formations the team uses, or whether they are playing a more defensive or offensive game.

If you are the goalkeeper, you will spend most of your time by the soccer goal, at either end of the field and within the penalty box or area – the 18-yard area that includes the goal area and is also centered in front of the soccer goal.

If you are a sweeper, you will be positioned on the edge of the penalty box directly in front of each soccer goal.

The right and left fullbacks and center back are positioned just outside the penalty box. The attacking team’s forwards try to make their way into the penalty box to score a goal, while the defending team tries to keep the ball and opposing players as far away from the penalty box as possible.

Midfielders spend most of their time in the middle third of the field, positioned between their attackers and defenders.

The striker and forwards aim to spend most of their time at the opposing teams’ end of the field by their goal and penalty box.

The Importance of Each Soccer Position

Each soccer position has a vital role in the game.

As stated earlier, goalkeepers are crucial because they are the last line of defense in protecting the goal. A goalkeeper also plays an essential role in communicating with teammates by getting the ball out of the goal box and back to their teammates.

The right and left fullbacks take necessary measures to protect the sides of the field and make sure the ball doesn’t get past them. They also make essential passes to their teammates, mainly down the sides of the soccer field.

The center-back has the job of making sure the penalty box and goal are protected.

A sweeper is crucial because it adds a layer of protection to the goal. They block shots, pass the ball, and move it back to their teammates.

Midfielders have the critical role of connecting the team. Because midfielders play the center of the field, they can move forward and play offense or pull back and defend. This is important because they set up plays for their team and constantly make essential decisions on the field that can link the team together to operate as one unit.

Forward players and strikers are crucial because they are the players that will score most of the goals for a team. Without forwards or strikers, it would be much harder for a team to win.

Soccer Formations

Untitled-design-14 An example of a soccer formation

Formations describe how all the players, except the goalkeeper, are positioned on the field. The goalie is omitted from this, as they are always in the same position on the field, no matter what.

The numbers in a formation start with the back of the field, or defense, followed by the midfield, with the last number representing the forwards. Occasionally, a coach may divide the formation into four sections to identify an extra player between the defense and midfield or midfield and forwards.

Depending on each team’s strengths, skill sets, and goals on the field, there are different formations they can choose to play.

Some configurations focus more on attacking, while others are set up in more of a defensive form. Knowing the difference between the two and which ones are most commonly used can help you understand how the players will be positioned on the field.

Defensive Formations

Putting pressure on the opposing team is the primary goal of defensive formations. These formations are most likely to be used when the other team is expected to have the ball for most of the game, and more intensity is needed from the defense to stop the attack. There are several defensive formations a coach can choose from, but the three most popular include:

Soccer-Formation-3-4-2-1 Soccer formation 3-4-2-1

  • Formation 3-4-2-1. This is the one to choose when looking for a formation that puts pressure on the opposing team. It is set up like the 3-4-3, except it pulls two of the attacking forwards further back to offer more defense. You’ll have your striker on the field, followed by two forwards on each side, then four midfielders, with three defenders in the back.

Soccer-Formation-4-5-1 Soccer formation 4-5-1

  • Formation 4-5-1. This formation pulls players toward the back of the field to take a defensive stance. The team has only one player on the offense, with four players on defense and five in the midfield. This formation might be a good one to use if the opposing team is expected to dominate possession.

Soccer-Formation-5-2-2-1 Soccer formation 5-2-2-1

  • Formation 5-2-2-1. This formation comprises one striker leading the team with two offensive midfielders, two defensive midfielders, and five defenders. Because more of the players are pulled to the back, this is also a very defensive formation.

Offensive Formations

On the other hand, offensive formations aim to put more pressure on the opposing team’s goal to score. These formations will utilize the forwards and midfielders in strategic locations to set up an attack that hopefully leads to a goal.

Three of the most commonly used and popular offensive formations in soccer include:

soccer formation 4-4-2 Soccer formation 4-4-2

  • Formation 4-4-2. This is the most famous soccer formation, especially for beginners. It focuses on creating a good balance of players on the field. The team has two center-forward players, four midfielders behind them, and four defensive players at the back. The midfield players in this formation can form a straight line, a flat midfield, or create more of a diamond shape, known as a diamond midfield.

soccer formation 3-4-3 Soccer formation 3-4-3

  • Formation 3-4-3. In this formation, three forwards attack the goal and are reinforced by four midfielders. This leaves only three defenders to help the goalkeeper protect the goal. This formation can be a bit risky because of counterattacks, so midfielders will want to ensure they understand their roles well.

Soccer-Formation-3-6-1 Soccer formation 3-6-1

  • Formation 3-6-1. The center forward takes the lead in this formation. It can be tricky to coordinate as a team, so midfielders want to ensure they can work together to support the center forward and back up the defender behind them. The roles of the midfielders will be broken down into two offensive midfielders toward the front, two wing-backs near the sides, and two defensive midfielders near the rear.

[source of above information]

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Critical Skill Sets for Each Position

critical-skills Soccer player in training

Every player on a team needs to start with commitment and dedication to the role. They must work together and support each other on and off the field.

However, as each player gets into specific roles, they need to focus on certain skill sets to excel.

  • Goalkeeper
    • must master the correct positioning in the goal
    • must develop their kicking, punting, jumping, ball handling, and catching skills
    • must have excellent hand-eye coordination and footwork,
    • must have quick reflexes
    • needs to be able to anticipate what is coming by reading the opponent and following the ball
    • must communicate effectively with their teammates.
  • Right and Left Full Backs
    • must be light on their feet and able to move quickly
    • must master skills such as short passes, dribbling, tackling, speed, endurance, acceleration, agility, concentration, discipline, composure, anticipation, and confidence.
  • Center Back
    • must be good at short and long passes, heading the ball, dribbling, jumping, tackling, strength, concentration, aggression, and anticipation.
  • Sweeper
    • known for their fitness and speed
    • must have precise timing for tackles, quick decision-making, good communication with the team, and excellent passing and dribbling technique
    • must be able to anticipate moves
  • Defending/Holding Midfielder
    • Must be in excellent running shape
    • must perfect long and short passes, tackling, jumping, and heading the ball
    • Must master other skills like endurance, acceleration, strength, discipline, anticipation, and acceleration.
  • Center Midfielder
    • must have excellent ball skills
    • must be in good shape to undertake excessive running
  • Right and Left Midfielder or Winger
    • must master ball control, long passing, shooting, dribbling, speed, acceleration, agility, creativity, confidence, composure, and aggression.
  • Attacking Midfielder
    • Must have proper technique and accuracy in their ball control
    • Must develop short passing and shooting skills
    • balance, acceleration, speed, creativity, composure, and confidence are also essential attributes.
  • Striker
    • must be good shooters
    • must be quick, unpredictable, and in good shape
    • must have a great first touch (click here to go to my article explaining what “first touch” refers to in soccer.)
    • dribbling, acceleration, balance, agility, confidence, and composure are critical.
  • Center Forward
    • must focus on correct technique when using the ball, dribbling, shooting, and passing
    • must maintain composure throughout the game
    • must be quick thinkers, as well as creative by staying one step ahead of the opponents
    • speed and precision are a must
    • must have a great vision with good decision-making by understanding the game and the best plays to make
    • self-confidence, patience, acceleration, balance, and agility must also be focused on.

How to Know What Position to Play

which-soccer-position-to-play Choice of different soccer positions on the field

If you’re reading this article to decide what position would be best for you, this is the part you’ve been waiting for.

There are many factors to consider when deciding which soccer position to play. First and foremost, you want to ensure that you find a comfortable position that brings out your strengths as a player. However, keep in mind that other things will also impact your playing.

Here are 8 things to consider when deciding what soccer position is best for you:

  1. Become familiar with the formations that your coach will use for your team. Different configurations will affect where you stand on the field.
  2. Recognize what you like to do most while playing soccer. Are you quick on your feet and love to score? Would you rather hang back by the sidelines, making passes? What you like to do is one of the most significant factors in deciding on your position.
  3. Try out different positions to get a feel for your preference. Most soccer players have played more than one position. It is hard to know if you have found the right one unless you’ve tried several positions, if not all, at some point.
  4. Avoid positions you know you won’t like. Knowing what you don’t like can be an excellent first step. If you are terrified of being in the goal area, don’t position yourself there. Players can sometimes become so focused on disliking a position that they will never give it their best when playing that role.
  5. Consider becoming a forward or striker if you are quick and love to score. As mentioned above, forwards and strikers must be fast and aim excellently. If that’s, you then try out this position.
  6. Try out midfield if you enjoy making passes and assists. Midfielders will have the ball at their feet as they run up and down the field, helping their team transition into offensive mode. They work on keeping the team together by distributing the ball and organizing plays.
  7. Become a defender if you love the thought of protecting your goal and stopping the plays of your opposing team. Defenders must hold their own and have lots of confidence. They excel in reading the game and predicting the other team’s movements.
  8. A goalkeeper might be a good option if you want to be the last line of defense and have excellent hand-eye coordination and reflexes. Goalkeepers must make quick decisions while reading the field and communicating with their teammates.

What Makes Someone Great in Their Soccer Position

Many things can factor into what makes someone a great soccer player, especially in their chosen position. However, there are a few key things that must be focused on. If players can master these aspects of the game and the critical skills needed for their position, they can become great soccer players.

  • Know your position. This might seem obvious, but find the right position for you and stay there. Players sometimes stray from their position to go after the ball or make a play. At that moment, it might seem like a good idea. However, it could leave their field area vulnerable and result in the opposing team taking advantage.
  • Have to discipline on and off the field. Great players respect their coach, the referees, and the game’s rules. They never act out without first thinking it through. This also carries over to their life off the field. Discipline in diet, training, and other healthy lifestyle choices is critical.
  • Concentration is key in perfecting your position. To be good at your position, you must be able to focus on the game and your role. Players that get distracted easily can cost their team the game.
  • A soccer player will never be successful if they don’t have the right attitude. Be motivated and passionate about the position you play and the team that you are on.
  • Soccer is all about teamwork. A player will succeed in their position if they can work with their team and coach to maximize each person’s role and responsibility.

Soccer Positions: How to Improve & Training Tips

Becoming a great soccer player is more than choosing a position you like. Each role has specific training that can help you excel in the field. The video below shows how hard soccer forward Cristiano Ronaldo trains.

If you want to perfect your soccer game, focus on the following training tips:

  1. Forwards
    • With various speeds and angles, work on turning, shooting, or passing the ball.
    • Learn how to take control of the ball in the air.
    • Practice crosses and assists to place the ball exactly where it needs to be.
    • Strengthen your cardio, speed, and endurance.
    • Practice footwork and dribbling skills.
  2. Midfielders
    • Practice long and short passes.
    • Work on your technique in controlling and handling the ball.
    • Practice dribbling and shooting.
  3. Defenders
    • Work on long passes and clearing the ball out of the penalty box.
    • Practice heading the ball and blocking shots.
    • Know how to receive the ball from your goalkeeper and send it upfield.
    • Practice dribbling and footwork.
    • Practice crossing the ball to other players.
  4. Goalkeeper
    • Work on blocking penalty kicks.
    • Practice jumping, diving, and other blocking positions.
    • Work on following the ball consistently.
    • Practice punts and throws.
    • Perfect your footwork and ball handling.
    • Build explosive strength.

I’d also recommend checking out an online soccer coaching course such as this one. This course is designed to dramatically improve your game while allowing you to train at times that suit you and your schedule.

Final Word…

There are many important aspects of soccer, especially when discussing each position.

When a player can play their position correctly and cover the areas of the field, the team will succeed in their game. Take your time deciding what position is right for you, then focus on practicing and developing the skills needed.