Soccer Positions Guide: Names, Roles, And Formations


Each position in soccer has it’s own jobs to do. With all the positions working together and doing what they’re supposed to, a soccer team can work together for the win.

There are three categories of soccer position, including the forwards, midfielders, and defenders. Each category has their own set of positions determined by their location on the field. Many positions are meant to switch between defense and offense depending on which team has the ball.

Each position has their own role to play, and the team relies on its players to perform. Players of different positions can work together in what’s called formations to out maneuver and outplay their opponent.

Soccer Position Categories

All soccer positions can be put into one of three categories; offensive, mid-field, or defensive. Each position, as well as category, has their own set of guidelines and roles when playing a game of soccer. The team will count on the player of any position to know their role and what is expected of them.

The position a player is in doesn’t limit their responsibilities or skill set though. Many players will be able to play multiple positions, and bring a variety of skill sets to any position they play. Let’s look at the complete list of soccer positions, and then go over the responsibilities and what’s expected of each position.

If you don’t know the rules of soccer or how to play the game, I suggest visiting my How To Play Soccer article to get an idea.

Soccer Positions List And Number

Each soccer position is given a number. This is not always the number reflected on their jersey, but the number assigned to their role and position they’re playing. This helps coaches to better analyze and create formations for the team as a whole if the positions are numbered.

Using numbers to define the positions started in the 20’s. Although not all couches use this approach, many find it helpful.

Soccer Positions List:

NumberPositionAcronym
1Goalie
Goalkeeper
GK
2Right Fullback or
Right Wingback
RB
RWB
3Left Fullback or
Left Wingback
LB
LWB
4Center BackCB
5Center Back or
Sweeper
CB
SW
6Defending Midfielder or
Holding Midfielder
DM
7Right Wing or
Right Midfielder
RW
8Central Midfielder or
Box to Box Midfielder
CM
9Striker or
Center Forward
S
CF
10Attacking Midfielder or
Second Striker
AM
11Left Wing or
Left Midfielder
LW

By matching the acronym in this list with the image below, you can identify where on the field each position is typically located during a soccer game.

Soccer Positions Location On Field:

soccer positions

Offensive Positions

Offensive positions in soccer are sometimes referred to as forward positions. These positions main goal is to score at all costs. These players will typically be the fastest players on the team, and will play mostly near the opponents goal.

Offensive positions skill set:

  • Quick and agile
  • Excellent ball control
  • Take shots at goal from any angle
  • Take shots at goal from a pass
  • Avoid being off-sides
  • Stay open for a pass
  • Scoring ability
  • Heading the ball

Center Forward (CF) #9

The center forward is responsible for scoring whenever the ball is passed to them. While they don’t have the ball, they will need to keep themselves open for a pass as much as possible. Good ball handling and quick footwork are important for this position to evade defenders and score goals.

Striker (S) #9

The striker is often the closest player to the opponents goal on the team. Their main goal is to stay open for passes and score goals. The striker is the most passed to player on the team, and must be quick enough to avoid defenders.

The center forward and striker are often interchangeable and can usually work together to score goals for their team.

Second Striker (SS) #10

The second striker is typically an attacking midfielder that has moved up to help the offense when the ball is near the opponents goal. The second striker isn’t always used, but when they are their main objective is to set up scoring opportunities for the striker and forwards.

They second striker should have good ball handling skills, as they will need to fend of defenders while the strikers get into scoring position.

Here’s a quick video with some soccer tips for attacking players to give you an idea of the type of game-play expected from these positions.

Midfielder Positions

Midfielders usually see the most action throughout a game of soccer because they are the link between offense and defense. They are typically situated in the middle of the field and on the wings. The midfielders job is to move the ball from the defenders to the forwards and to stop the opponent from making their way down the field.

Midfielder positions skill set:

  • Accept passes
  • Good ball control
  • Accurate passing ability
  • Intercepting opponent passes
  • Stealing the ball from opponents
  • Getting the ball to the forwards
  • Sometimes take an offensive role
  • Good 1 on 1 skill

Attacking Midfielder (AM) #10

Attacking midfielders are sometimes referred to as the play makers. This is because they sit in between the midfield and the offensive line. They can quickly switch to an offense role as a second striker, and must know how to score, as well as play aggressive defense when the ball is near that end of the field.

The attacking midfielder can set up plays and orchestrate goals better than any other player on the field.

Defensive Midfielder (DM) #4 or #6

Defensive midfielders are sometimes referred to as holding midfielders because they are the last line of defense before the ball gets into defenders territory. The defensive midfielder must be able to intercept their opponents passes and steal the ball whenever possible. Their main goal is to keep the ball out of their area, and deliver it to the offensive players.

Central Midfielder (CM) #8

Central midfielders are the closest to the center of the field than any other players. They must have excellent ball handling and passing skills to get the ball further up the field and evade their opponents. They can switch between helping a defensive midfielder (#6) on defense or an attacking midfielder (#10) on offense.

The central midfielder is often looked at as the hardest working player on the team, and an essential part of the game.

Left and Right Wing (LW,RW) #11 or #7

The goal of the left wing and right wing midfielders is to pull their opponents defense out to make room for the forwards to score. Playing on the edges of the field, this position is sometimes referred to as the wingers. The can move the ball up the field and even take shots at the goal. This is why the defense may pull towards them to stop shots from being taken.

Here’s a helpful video with some tips for midfielder players to give you an idea of what these positions need to be able to do.

Defender Positions

Defenders are sometimes referred to as the backs. Their main priority is to protect the goalie by allowing as few shots as possible to be taken on the goal. These players are positioned closest to their own net on their side of the field. They must be fast, willing to steal the ball, and intercept passes as much as possible.

Defender positions skill set:

  • Steal the ball
  • Block passes
  • Intercept passes
  • Protect the goalie
  • Block forwards and offensive plays
  • Prevent shots on goal
  • Prevent scoring

Left and Right Backs (LB,RB) #3 or #2

Left and right backs are sometimes called fullbacks or outside fullbacks. Their main job is to keep the ball from moving towards the goal from the edges of the field. They will typically defend against an advancing wing midfielder, but can also move towards the center of the field to help the center backs on defensive.

Left and Right Wing Back (LWB,RWB) #3 or #2

The left and right wing backs will play defense like any of the other backs on the team, but can also switch roles, running up to help out the midfielders, playing as a winger in those cases. To play this positions you would need excellent stamina as you would spend most of the game running up and down the sides of the field.

The wing backs can act as a defensive back or an offensive winger, but either way will stay near the outside edges of the field.

Center Back (CB) #4 or #5

Center backs are sometimes referred to as stoppers or center defenders because their main role is to protect the goal, steal the ball, and get it to the midfielders or forwards. The center back must be quick and explosive to stop an opponents approach and shot at the goal.

Sweeper (SW) #5

The sweeper is the closest player to their teams goal other than the goalie. They are called sweepers because they are meant to sweep up any balls that get passed the defensive backs. This is the last line of defense before the goalie, this position must be able to stop incoming opponents from taking shots at the goal.

The sweeper isn’t always used as a position, typically a team will go without a sweeper and leave just the center backs to help protect the goalie.

Goalie (GK) #1

The goalie is the most important defensive position on a soccer team. Really, the goalie is often considered it’s own category, but they are technically a defense position. The goalie is the only player that can use their hands to catch or throw the ball. Typically, the goalie will stay in the goal, block shots taken by their opponent, and push the ball towards the midfielders.

To improve on the skill sets required to play these positions, you’ll need to practice. Check out my list of 26 Soccer Training Drills to get an idea of the type of training drills you can use to improve.

Here’s a helpful video with some tips for defensive players to give you an idea of what’s expected from these types of positions.

Formations

Now that you know each position and what their roles are, let’s talk about some popular formations and how those positions work together as a team to win games. There can be offensive and defensive formations, and how the team works together will truly determine the games result.

A teams formation allows players to act together like a work of art, creating one of the most beautiful games ever played.

The formations are typically named based off the amount of players in each category of position. For example, a 4-4-3 formation will have 4 defenders, 4 midfielders, and 3 offensive positions. Notice how not all player numbers are used as only 10 players (plus a goalie) can be on the field at a time.

Here are some of the more popular team formations, but this is by no means a complete list. In fact, some coaches will come up with their own custom formations based on their teams strengths.

The 4-4-2 Formation

The 4-4-2 formation is one of the most popular soccer formations with a defensive or offensive setup. The defensive 4-4-2 formation is called the flat midfield because the midfielders are stretched out flat across the center of the field protecting the field from edge to edge.

Here Are The 4-4-2 Flat Midfield Player Positions:

4-4-2 flat midfield soccer formation

The offensive 4-4-2 formation is called the diamond midfield because the midfielders are positioned in a diamond shape allowing the attacking midfielder and wings to help out on offense.

Here Are The 4-4-2 Diamond Midfield Player Positions:

4-4-2 diamond midfield soccer formation

The 4-4-3 Formation

The 4-3-3 formation is another popular soccer formation that has offensive and defensive variants. The midfielders create a triangle shape in this formation, allowing two players from the mid field to help on either offense or defense depending on the shape of the triangle.

Here Is A Typical 4-4-3 Attack Minded Midfield Formation:

4-3-3 attack minded midfield soccer formation

To execute the defensive version of this 4-3-3 formation, the midfield triangle will simply be rotated, allowing two midfielders to fall back and help on defense if needed. Typically, only the attacking midfielder will stay on the opponents half of the field in this case.

The 3-5-2 Formation

The 3-5-2 formation is commonly used to control the center of the field. This is a good strategy to keep the ball under your teams control. With a surge of players control the center of the field, the opponent will have a tougher time moving the ball towards the goal. The trade off is usually less offensive players, but they will probably be getting the ball more often.

Here Is A Common 3-5-2 Formation:

3-5-2 soccer formation

There are many other formations, too many to list here. These are just the most common, and a good way to show how formations can be used to control the field and the flow of the game. Now let’s answer some common questions I get about soccer positions.

What Is The Hardest Position In Soccer?

The hardest position in soccer is the defending midfielder, but the goalie is a very close second hardest position to play. The midfielder will make or break a team, needing to chase the ball, defend, support offense, and distribute the ball. defensive midfielders are the hardest workers on a soccer team.

I don’t mean to take the difficulty of the goalie’s position lightly. Many would disagree with me and say the goalie has the hardest job. They make a huge difference for a team, and need to be highly aware at all times. If the opposing team makes a goal, forget everyone else, all that responsibility is on the goalkeeper.

Who Runs The Most In Soccer?

Midfielder positions run the most during a typical soccer game. The midfielders are responsible for getting the ball from the defense to the offense, and have a lot of ground to cover. In many cases the left and right wing midfielders will run the most during a soccer game.

You typically want the players with the most endurance to be midfielders. Not always the fastest, but those who can run for long periods of time without hurting their performance.

What Is The Fastest Position In Soccer?

The position that requires the fastest soccer players is the attacking midfielder. The attacking midfielder must be able to quickly move the ball to the striker and center forward, or be fast enough to take shots at goal themselves. An attacking midfielder can play as a second striker, moving from a midfield to an offensive position, and will need to be fast to do so.

The attacking midfielder is the one who can set up plays and decides how the team will attack the goal. They need to think quickly, and be quick on their feet as well.

What Is The Easiest Position In Soccer?

The easiest position in soccer to play, and to master, is the left fullback or left wingback. There are fewer left footed players and less competition for those positions. They don’t need to run as much as other players, and see less action than other positions.

If you’re a good runner, you may find it easier to play on a wing. The easiest position for you will depend on your strengths and weaknesses. But overall, I would say the left fullback is one of the easier position to get into.

Which Soccer Position Runs The Least?

Aside from the goalkeeper, the striker will typically run the least out of all soccer positions on the field. The striker will mostly stay at the opponents end of the field in front of their goal. Their job is to stay open for passes, and to score goals. The striker doesn’t run the field like many of the other positions do.

If you really want to play soccer without running, become a goalkeeper. The goalie will run up to catch a ball or pass the ball up the field. But for the most part, the goalie stay in small set area for most of the game.

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Robert Sampson

I'm Robert Sampson and I live in Colorado where I spend a lot of time in the backyard with my family either grilling, playing games and sports, or working on a project to make our backyard a better place to be.

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