Soccer Positions: The Ultimate Guide
Are you trying to understand the different soccer positions and their roles better? It can be very confusing with the different formations and tactics coaches install into their team. In this article, we’ll lay it all out for you in order to help you better learn the different positions in soccer.
Some people regard soccer as merely kicking a ball around on the field. But there is so much more to this sport than that. It takes a lot of skill and expertise to excel in soccer, as the roles vary from position-to-position.
Every team member relies on their specific set of talents and responsibilities to do their job well. Some players can play various roles, but the vast majority have a specific focus especially as they get older.
These positions reflect the specific responsibilities of each player and, when brought together, can determine the success of the team.
Soccer positions can be divided into three main groups: defenders, midfielders and forwards. Each of these groups is assigned a specific position within it along with primary responsibilities.
In this article, we will dig into each soccer position and describe the responsibilities that go along with it. In addition, we’ll discuss the most popular formations for teams. So, let’s dive in!
The Importance of the Positions
Some players on a team may be more prone to attack and try to score, while others may be better suited to defend their own goal and try to prevent goals from being scored against them. This is evident in other team sports as well, including basketball, football and hockey.
As was previously noted, the players and positions in soccer are divided into three distinct groups: the defense, the midfield and forwards.
Imagine yourself as a bird flying over a soccer pitch, and you can easily visualize these three distinct areas. The field can be divided into thirds. The area of the team’s goal-side is where the defenders will usually be stationed. The middle of the field will be protected by (you guessed it) the midfield. Towards the opponent’s goal, you’ll find the forwards.
Here’s a better illustration of it.
Each position is also given a number and is often shown on the back of the player’s jersey.
Soccer Positions by Numbers
Each soccer team has 11 players on the field at one time. Historically, a number has been associated with each position. Sometimes you’ll hear from the sidelines, “my kid plays the #10”, which usually means he’s a central attacking midfielder.
Here are the numbers you should be accustomed to hearing about:
1 – Goalkeeper (GK)
2 – Right Fullback (RB)
3 – Left Fullback (LB)
4 – Center Back (CB)
5 – Center Back (CB)
6 – Central Defending Midfielder (CDM)
7 – Right Winger (RW)
8 – Central Midfielder (CM)
9 – Striker (S)
10 – Central Attacking Midfielder (CAM)
11 – Left Winger (LW)
Defensive Soccer Positions
You probably realize the value of a goalkeeper even if you’re entirely new to the game. They have a huge responsibility and are considered the last line of defense.
The primary responsibility of the goalkeeper, or “keeper,” or “goalie” is to prevent goals from being scored by the opposition.
For their duties, keepers have special privileges which allows them to use their hands. However, they are subject to the no-hands restriction once they leave the box or if a ball is passed back to them by their own teammate.
As soon as the ball gets into the defensive third, all eyes are on the goalkeeper, who is known for making good decisions and reacting quickly.
Some of the best professional goalkeepers include:
- Manuel Neuer
- David De Gea
- Alisson Becker
- Iker Casillas
- Nadine Angerer
Right #2 and Left #3 Fullback
The right and left fullbacks play the role of the field’s rear defenders.
They play on the edge of the field and go closer to the center when necessary. The ability to play one-on-one, make tackles and make technical passes are the major strengths of any fullback.
Maintaining formation with the offensive line requires a high rate of speed and field awareness, which is also needed for fullbacks.
An elite fullback will oftentimes start a counter-attack for their team by finding a midfielder with space in front of them. They can flip the team’s switch from defensive to offensive with a couple of key plays.
Some of the best fullbacks in the professional game are:
- Alphonso Davies
- Kieran Trippier
- Kyle Walker
- Achraf Hakimi
- Trent Alexander-Arnold
Center Back #4 & #5
Next up is the center back position. A center back defender is sometimes called a stopper. This player is stationed in the center of the field, at the far back of the defensive line.
As a broad generalization, a center back’s job is the same as the fullbacks: to protect their own end of the field from the offense.
Two center backs may be on the field at once. For example, in a 4-4-2, there will be two center backs lined up with two fullbacks on the edges.
A center back must possess strong intangible skills such as leadership, steady emotions and strong communication. Along with physical and mental toughness, these skills will make the difference between a decent and great center back.
Elite Center backs in today’s game include:
- Virgil van Dijk
- Cristian Romero
- Ruben Dias
- David Alaba
Sweeper #5 (for certain formations)
Remember the sweeper? This is a rare and “antiquated” position. A professional team will typically feature two acting center backs instead of a sweeper. But, youth teams still use a sweeper depending on what formation they line up in.
A sweeper is a defender who sits back from the defensive line and clears the area of any incoming balls.
These players are usually multi-positional dynamos with a high IQ who can lead their teams.
Central Defending Midfielder #6
The central defending midfielder (CDM) can also be labeled as a “holding midfielder”.
Positioned between the defensive line and the attacking players, this player plays in the middle of the field to anticipate passes and advance the ball on counter-attacks.
The ideal player for this role is someone who can calmly control the ball, make quick decisions and is defensive minded.
The best CDMs include:
- N’Golo Kante
- Declan Rice
- Joshua Kimmich
Central Attacking Midfielder #10
A central attacking midfielder (CAM) is typically the playmaker of the team. Whether it’s setting teammates up or scoring themselves, the CAM position is a hybrid of a midfielder and striker.
The primary skills required are a combination of technical, tactical awareness, agility, creativity, and natural determination. The quality of this position can be the difference between winning and losing soccer matches.
In addition to passing and scoring, the central attacking midfielder must provide defensive coverage when necessary.
The greatest players in the CAM position are:
- Bernardo Silva
- Piotr Zielinski
- Lionel Messi
- Bruno Fernandes
- Christopher Nkunku
Right #7 and Left #11 Wingers
The left and right midfielders (oftentimes called wingers) are located near the two sidelines of the field.
The role of a winger in soccer is to provide width and attacking options to the team by taking on defenders and getting crosses into the box.
Wingers play an important role on offense and defense. The position requires great stamina, one-on-one skills and passing abilities.
Some of the greatest wingers in soccer today are:
- Sadio Mane
- Mohamed Salah
- Vinicius Jr
- Riyad Mahrez
In addition to traditional wingers, there are inverted wingers in more modern day formations. This is when a player lines up on the opposite site of their strong foot. For example, an inverted winger who is lefty would line up on the right side so they can cut in with their dominant foot and open up more scoring opportunities for their team.
Center Midfielder #8
The center midfielder (CM) is one of the few players on the pitch who is expected to make an impact offensively as well as defensively. Central midfielders require incredible levels of stamina on the pitch.
The CM’s role typically requires foresight since they are responsible for distributing the ball to the right player at the right moment. While it’s not always the case, CM’s often serve as team leaders and can influence the style of play.
Ball control, tackling, passing, work rate and leadership are soccer skills required to excel in this position.
The following players are some of the best central midfielders:
- Kevin De Bruyne
- Luka Modric
- Toni Kroos
- Frenkie de Jong
As the name implies, strikers are the players that are stationed in the forward most positions, closest to the goal of the opposing side.
Their major role is to score goals and set up teammates for goals. When not in control, forwards may help defend by pressuring the other team’s defenders and goalie.
The striker needs a combo of quick feet and a strong body to wear defenses down.
Strikers will frequently need to obtain possession of the ball in one-on-one situations. They need to be able to know when to take a defender on, when to lay it off and when to hold possession.
Some of the greatest strikers in soccer are:
- Christiano Ronaldo
- Robert Lewandowski
- Kylian Mbappe
- Karim Benzema
- Erling Haaland
How To Select Your Position
Not sure what soccer position is right for you? For the younger generation, it is important to try them all! As players get older, they will naturally lean towards a position based on their skillset.
Here are a few questions you might use to guide which position you may gravitate towards.
- Would you rather score a goal or stop a goal from being scored?
- How would you characterize your favorite part of soccer?
- Are you an aggressive player or would you prefer to support others?
- Would you say you have a definite position you dislike? Avoid it if you don’t like it.
- Do you get anxious when you have the ball or a scoring opportunity?
- Do you have the stamina to run the length of the field for 60-90 minutes?
- Do you have great reflexes and anticipation to see where the ball is going?
- In your current position, are you having fun? Do you think you’ll enjoy it more in another area of the field?
Standard Soccer Team Formations
During a soccer match, teams often use formations that place distinct groups of players in designated spots on the pitch. The following are the most typical formations:
Each line has a recommended number of players preceding it. The formation count starts from the back (defenders) to the front (striker). For instance, in a 4-4-2 formation, there are four defenders, four midfielders, and two strikers.
The fact that formations are constantly changing is the single most crucial fact to remember.
On the pitch, players do not remain in the same area like they have an invincible fence around them and can’t get on the other side of it. Instead, they need to be in a constant state of motion, shifting places but also keeping their shape.
A formation is just a way to set up the players on the field based on the team’s strategy.
There are many soccer formations that a coach can implement. We’ll address just a couple of them here. You can also read ‘5 Effective Soccer Formations’.
4-3-3 Soccer Formation
The 4-3-3 is a common formation in the professional ranks. It’s a flexible configuration that may be used in either attack or defense.
We have four defenders, three midfielders, and three attackers in this setup.
In this formation, the three forwards that line up top need to use their speed and passing abilities to get behind the defense. There are four defenders that are looking to start the counter-attacks by pushing the ball up to one of the three midfielders.
The 4-3-3 is a flexible formation that may be used in various ways. This is a good formation for teams that want to keep position of the ball as much as possible while taking advantage of scoring opportunities.
4-4-2 Soccer Formation
The 4-4-2 formation is also another popular soccer formation. It’s a versatile formation that works well on both offense and defense.
This balanced configuration consists of four defenders, four midfielders, and two strikers.
It is common for the two forwards to be stationed in the center of the field, where they may use their superior size and strength to win aerial duels and 50/50 balls.
Midfielders and defenders are well balanced and can take more control of possessions with the right players in place.
What is the Best Soccer Position?
Honestly, only you would know. Naturally, as you play more, you’ll gravitate towards a position or positions.
The best soccer position depends on various factors such as the player’s physical attributes, skillset, and the team’s tactics.
For example, a player with good ball control and dribbling skills may be better suited to play as a forward or winger, while a player with strong defensive abilities may excel as a center-back or defensive midfielder. A player who is comfortable with taking risks and making creative moves may do well as an attacking midfielder.
Another important factor to consider when determining the best soccer position is your current and potential physical attributes. For example, a tall and strong player may be better suited to play as a defensive back or striker, while a smaller and more agile player may excel as a winger or central midfielder.
Ultimately, the best position for a player depends on their individual strengths, the team’s needs and physical attributes.
From the goalkeeper to the striker, every player on the pitch contributes to the team’s overall success. Some positions need high levels of stamina and strength, while others call for exceptional one-on-one abilities. What makes soccer so entertaining to watch is the players’ ability to work together as a team.
So, no matter how far you want to go in soccer, you should always strive to improve your abilities and teamwork.
Have a growth mindset. Continue to study your position, refine your ball skills and have fun!