Soccer 101

The Positions

There are 11 players in a soccer team, and they are broken down into the following positions:

TYPICAL STARTING POSITIONS, ASSUMING THE RED TEAM BEGINS WITH POSSESSION OF THE BALL.  Click to enlarge.

  • Goalkeeper or goalie:  This is the most specialized position on the team and it is the only one mandated by the laws of the game.  This player typically stays within the goal and surrounding penalty box.  He wears distinctive clothing from the rest of the team and is allowed to use his hands to manipulate the ball (except in a pass back).  His primary role is to block the ball from entering the goal.  He also plays an important role in strategy because he has a view of the entire field throughout the game.  Famous Goalies include Gianluigi Buffon (Italy national team, Juventus F.C.), Manuel Neuer (Germany national team, Munich Bayern F.C.), and Hugo Lloris (France national team, Tottenham Hotspur F.C.)
  • Forwards or strikers:  These players will position themselves closest to the opposing team's goal and are responsible for scoring goals.  There will usually be one to three forwards playing on a team.  Famous Forwards include Lionel Messi (Argentina national team, Barcelona F.C.), Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal national team, Real Madrid F.C.), and Arjen Robben (Netherlands national team, Munich Bayern F.C.)
  • Defenders:  These players work to defend their goal.  There are four different types of defenders that are used in different formations.  Center-backs and full-backs are most commonly used in defensive formations, with sweepers and wing-backs used in more specialized circumstances.  Famous Defenders include Sergio Ramos (Center-back, Spain national team, Real Madrid F.C.), Thiago Silva (Center-back, Paris Saint-Germain), and Gerard Pique (Center-back, Spain national team, Barcelona F.C.).
    • Center-backs: These players work up the center of the field to try and prevent the opposing team from scoring.  They may need to make long powerful kicks to clear the ball away from the goal they are defending.
    • Full-backs (Right Back and Left Back):  These players work on the left- and right-hand sides of the field to try and prevent the opposing team from scoring.  They have a number of responsibilities, including throwing in the ball, defending specific offensive players, and actively attacking to intercept the ball.
    • Sweeper:  This player specializes in defense, but does not typically play man-to-man coverage (i.e., he is not marked  or assigned to cover only one player).  Instead, he sweeps up the ball if it breaks through the rest of the defensive players.
    • Wing-backs:  These players are similar to full-backs but have an increased emphasis on attacking and physically impeding the ball from advancing.
  • Midfielders:  These players are positioned between the forwards and defenders and will specialize in either offense or defense.  They typically travel the greatest distance throughout the game.  Famous Midfielders include Eden Hazard (Belgium national team, Chelsea F.C.), Mesut Ozil (Germany national team, Arsenel F.C.), and Ander Herrera (Manchester United F.C.).  There are a few different types of midfielder specializations:
    • Central or center midfielders:  These players play a good balance of offense and defense up through the center of the field.
    • Wide midfielders:  These players play a good balance of offense and defense on the right- and left-hand sides of the field.
    • Defensive midfielders:  These players specialize in defense and will either mark a specific player or will defend a zone of the field.
    • Attacking midfielders:  These players specialize in offense and will play up the field closest to the forwards and strikers.
    • Wingers:  These players specialize in offense and attacking the ball on the far left-and right-hand sides of the field.